Crowds compound traffic, trash problems along Russian River

  • A park ranger pauses to talk with a group of tourists from San Francisco, who did not want to give their names, while they temporarily double park on River Drive to inflate their inner tubes near the Mother's Beach access trail in Forestville, California, on Sunday, May 31, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

FORESTVILLE — On the hottest days of summer, beaches along the Russian River beckon the most. A dunk in the refreshing drink promises cooling to the core.

And unlike many forms of recreation these days, there's no cost, except for parking in some cases.

But for each degree the mercury rises, the anxiety of nearby residents swells.

Use of Sonoma County's river beaches has surged in the past two or three years, park and public safety officials say, and experience tells the locals that heat means crowds — and, often, trouble. Weekends and, especially, holidays are the worst.

"There's lot of us that used to look forward to summer," said David Herr, a resident of Forestville's River Drive near Mom's Beach, the biggest party spot so far this year. "But now it's not our favorite season, because of the chaos."

Forestville has three public beaches and a handful of private ones strung along a stretch of River Road less than two and a half miles long. On hot weekends, hundreds of vehicles jam the narrow, curving side streets in neighborhoods that overlook the river.

People park in whatever nooks and crannies they can find, sometimes obstructing driveways and the lane of travel. Streams of people armed with beach paraphernalia walk along the shoulder or on River Road itself.

The parade features all kinds of beach-goers, including responsible, peaceful folks who pack out what they bring in and recreate respectfully.

But there are others who apparently think nothing of dumping their trash in people's yards, or even using lawns and driveways as restrooms, according to residents. Beer, a staple beach beverage, and other types of alcohol is consumed in abundance, fueling problems and misadventures the likes of which nearby residents are all too familiar.

Memorial Day this year exemplified some of the worst problems, some river residents said, leaving them to brace for what they fear could be their most challenging summer yet.

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