LeBARON: Summers on The River, where the living was easy

  • 4/29/2006: A11:
    5/23/2005: A1: Sunbathers gather Sunday at Dubrava Beach on the Russian River in Guerneville. A teenager was swept away at the beach Saturday and is presumed drowned.
    PC: Photo by Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat Sunbathers crowd along Dubrava Beach on the Russian River in Guerneville on Sunday afternoon, May 22, 2005.

The headline read: "Deputies to increase presence on Russian River to ensure safety of revelers."

The story, published just before Memorial Day, told of narrow roads and the resort area's "attraction for young people — some underage — who have big parties."

Law enforcement, the story said, is going to "crack down on public intoxication in the area."

For those who have "summered" on the river in the past, a headline and story like that elicits one of those, "What else is new?" kind of shrugs. Or, in the current vernacular, "Ya think?"

The groups of teenagers who have descended on the beaches to have a good time, sometimes inappropriately, are as much a part of the county's history as were the stagecoaches loaded with summer visitors who descended on the hot springs resorts in the late 19th century.

The difference is that the Victorian-age visitors were better behaved. I think. If they weren't, they kept darn few records of their transgressions. Or maybe the reports of those youthful capers, which may have horrified the elders, wouldn't sound like much in today's climate.

The report of increased law enforcement and additional patrols does not surprise. Those extra "summer deputies" have long been at The River (note the capitalization, which makes it a title that encompasses beaches, resorts and resort towns from the backside of Healdsburg's Fitch Mountain to Duncans Mills.)

The '50s and '60s were the last of a string of decades when The River was a destination resort for San Franciscans who came first by train and then by car — to Camp Rose and Palomar and Del Rio Woods near Healdsburg, to Hilton, Hacienda, Rio Nido, Monte Rio — and all the little resort communities tucked in around Guerneville.

The older folks, asked about The River, go immediately to the Big Band era of the '30s and '40s. They can tell you whose band — be it Kay Kayser or Ozzie Nelson at Rio Nido, Glen Gray at The Grove or Lionel Hampton at Mirabel Park — was playing when they met their future mate, or the wonderful music they just listened to, sitting on a tree stump above Rio Nido, too young to go in and dance.

There was no talk of gang fights and certainly no online postings of big parties, open to all.

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