The county is looking to keep river revelers from getting out of control along the Clackamas River; another drinking ban is unlikely
Last summer crowds of thousands overloaded the Clackamas River, leading to fighting, drunkenness and 'near-riot' conditions.
Now the county has come up with recommendations for how to handle the situation this year - and at least two groups directly impacted have doubts about the plan.
Sheriff Craig Roberts said that adding a proposed access point at Carver Curves, about halfway between the two parks, won't really help if the river is too clogged for deputies to get to people in need, and he worried that not restricting the amount of alcohol was inviting trouble.
And Warren Mitchell, a Clackamas River Water board member, said he's worried that a heightened presence at Carver is just going to push the troublemakers somewhere else, potentially to CRW's property.
Mitchell said the pattern over the last three years for the rowdier river patrons has been to move to avoid heightened scrutiny - starting at the High Rocks in Oregon City and Gladstone, until lifeguards and extra patrols showed up; then to 'the fishing hole,' until the sheriff's office limited parking with guard rails and patrolled more; then to Carver. He said those people aren't going to stay in the spot with the added security this year, either, but will float on to a less-scrutinized location.
The stretch of the river that gained such notoriety last Fourth of July starts in Barton Park, at Highway 224 and 232nd Avenue, and ends at Carver Park, near Highway 224 in Carver.
'If they've been drinking [the whole way down the river], by the time they get down [to Carver], it accentuates the problem there,' said Pam Girtman, of Clackamas County Business and Community Services. That's exactly what happened last year, and what led to a temporary ban on alcohol in those two parks from July to September.
Volunteers and added access
To improve conditions and to try to prevent the chaos that ensued last year, the county commission is seeking to make the whole stretch from Barton to Carver a 'family-friendly' corridor. They plan to lift the alcohol ban, but they have other measures they hope will offset that.
'What we're looking at is trying to figure out how do we create a rather lengthy part of the river that is family friendly, and then expanding that later,' said County Commission Chairwoman Lynn Peterson.
To do that, they've added another access point for sheriff's deputies at Carver Curves, about halfway between the two parks. Peterson said they also hoped to have port-a-potties, recycling bins and trashcans at that site so people would have a midway rest point rather than having to use people's yards.
The commission is trying to expand access to Carver to allow for more efficient flow of people in and out of the park, and hopes to have volunteers at Barton encouraging people to use the river more responsibly.
With the volunteers, 'it wouldn't be enforcement, it would be eyes and ears,' said Girtman. 'Accountability is really what it is. People aren't going to act that way if they know they're not going to get away with it.'
Peterson said she hopes that with a little help from the county, people will want to be better park patrons.
'We're also creating opportunities for people to be better recreators, so they're not throwing trash in neighbor's property or relieving themselves in their yards,' she said.
The last part of the plan involves extra patrols.
'Increased access to the sheriff's office as well as increased patrol on those days we think we're going to need it' would be instituted, she said. But this is also a trial run. 'If it doesn't work, we'll look at banning [alcohol] again.'
Sheriff wants limits on
Sheriff Craig Roberts said he wants people to be able to enjoy the parks, but he can't ensure safety if his deputies can't get to people in need.
'One of the concerns I have has to do with the number of people allowed in parks,' he said. 'I think they need to have some controls on the river, and I didn't see that in the plan … We get a lot of river rescues on the Clackamas and our boats literally could not get up the river [last Fourth of July].'
He said the purchase of Carver Curves to allow deputies an access point halfway along the stretch was fine, but with conditions like those last year, it wouldn't matter much.
'If [the deputies] can't get 400 yards up the river because it's wall-to-wall people, then again, it can' hinder safety operations, he said. 'Like any building, you can only get so many people in there.'
He's also concerned with the amount of alcohol on the river.
'Having somebody put a keg onto a raft or the equivalent of a keg, and floating down the river with four to six people [sharing a keg], you can see that is going to lead to some trouble,' he said.
And he didn't know how the county was planning to fund extra sheriff's patrols.
Clackamas River Water
Downriver from Carver Park lies a site that is officially closed to the public but which often draws fishermen and homeless camps, said Mitchell, the Clackamas River Water board member. The beach and dense overgrowth lies between the water provider's intake pumps in the river and its treatment plant up on the ridge, and CRW owns the whole site. Although getting to the park from Barton would be about double the trip to Carver, Mitchell said they had some of last year's partiers show up and had a fight break out.
He said now that the county is so focused on making that area secure, the people causing the trouble are just going to move somewhere else.
'That's what's going to happen. I've seen it in there - down at High Rocks, they put lifeguards in there' and people moved on, he said. They went to a spot called the fishing hole the next year, but the sheriff put in guardrails and patrolled more. 'So last year they moved to Barton. Now they have those restrictions and now they're going to move to, I assume, the closest place is our park.'
Girtman said that wasn't the point in establishing the new protocol.
'We didn't want to just shift the emphasis somewhere else,' she said. 'That's not the point at all.'
But Mitchell thinks it's going to happen regardless.
'It'll move them here or somewhere else.'