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'Cancun' in Jefferson County?

More than 1,000 partygoers from across the state arrive for traditional backwoods party

by: Photo By Troy Foster - Ronnie Kelly of Western Oregon University mugs for the camera during a weekend party west of Three Rivers that drew 1,000 young adults from colleges all over the state.

News Editor
   May 28, 2003 — Elected officials often bemoan the fact that Jefferson County has no destination resort.
   But for several years now, a raging party in this county's backwoods has been the destination for thirsty young adults from all over the state.
   Sure, Lake Billy Chinook is always a popular recreation spot on Memorial Day Weekend. But more than 1,000 young tourists turned a rock quarry west of Three Rivers into a site of bonfires, binge drinking and general debauchery akin to Woodstock without the live entertainment.
   The little-known event to residents here is widely known across the state's college campuses, several partgoers said.
   "I guess it's just a tradition," said Zach Kacaleck, a Central Oregon Community College student. "The word spreads."
   Forest Service officials say the party dates back to the 1980s, growing and evolving over the years.
   Partgoers this weekend identified themselves as students from virtually every major campus across the state, including the University of Oregon, Oregon State, Western Oregon University, Southern Oregon University and others. Some crashed the party from at least as far north as Vancouver, Wash., and south to the College of the Siskiyous near Weed, Calif.
   There is no planning involved in this wild event. Everyone just knows to come. And to come on Memorial Day weekend.
   Surrounded by six kegs and nine cases of beer, a group of students from Western Oregon said they began planning to attend for 12 months ago — right after the bash last year.
   "This is where the party's at," said Andy Shortman, a WOU senior. "There's hot girls everywhere, as you can see."
   Said Clint Steen, another Western student: "These are all blue-collar college students from all over the state. We're here because this is one of the main spots for Memorial Day."
   Most arrived Friday for a full weekend of boozing, although some said they came as early as Thursday.
   The rock quarry could have resembled a tent city if it weren't for scores of cars stacked together in what a casual observer might mistake as rock-concert parking lot.
   During the day, some left the quarry to catch rays at Lake Billy Chinook. But by nightfall, most were back taking in heat rays from a large bonfire where everyone convened.
   "Last night we stayed up until 4 and woke up at 7 and started drinking again," partgoer Jarrod Garcia said Saturday.
   The party was located on public land in the Forest Service's jurisdiction, and with only two law enforcement officers and five employees in the area at any one time, their role was just to keep it as safe as possible.
   "It's frustrating, because the land management agencies and law enforcement agencies are so understaffed to handle a crowd of this size with this much chaos," said Bill Anthony, the Forest Service's Sisters District Ranger.
   The rock quarry was not the only place with droves of partyers. College-age students set up camp on private land near Fly Creek and others took up spots at Perry South Campground.
   The Forest Service has been keeping Monty Campground near Perry South closed through Memorial Day weekend the past four years.
   That's where the party used to be centered, Anthony said, and it used to interfere with the experiences of families.
   "I thought with four years of presence out here, they might break up," Anthony said. "But whenever you push on once spot and close it, they go somewhere else."
   Now, the Forest Service tries to keep a lid on only the "most extreme circumstances," Anthony said. There are too many youths and not enough officers to enforce the drinking age.
   "Alcohol, drugs and testosterone is a bad combination," Anthony said.
   Surprisingly, partyers say they appreciate the Forest Service's presence. They remind the youths to be cautious with fires, stay off the roads if they've been drinking and provide other tips for good stewardship.
   "They told us to keep the place clean or this isn't going to happen next year," said Ryan Hunt, a COCC student. "I don't want it to be shut down so we can't come back, so I've been trying to spread the word on that."
   Some at the party even gave it a name this year: "The Cancun of Central Oregon."
   "It's interesting that people from all over Oregon came here to meet people, but the most interesting thing here is that beer bong right there," said Hunt, pointing to an upside-down water jug with eight spouts.