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.
"We had people barfing, pooping, peeing," said David Emery, a neighbor of Herr's near Mom's Beach, just upstream of the Hacienda Bridge.
He voiced a level of frustration common among many beach neighbors.
"I'm about ready to either move or get a gun, or I don't know what," Emery said, throwing his hands in the air.
Bad behavior by beach-goers is a chronic issue this time of the year for Russian River communities stretching from Healdsburg to Monte Rio. Increased visitor numbers in recent years have compounded the problems.
Fees collected from the five county-run river beaches that charge for parking show visitorship increasing roughly 20 percent over each of the past two years, not counting those who use county park passes or leave their cars outside paid parking areas, said county Regional Parks Manager Bert Whitaker.
The five beaches include Sunset and Steelhead in Forestville, Riverfront Park and Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Park in Healdsburg, and Cloverdale River Park.
Public safety personnel have observed the burgeoning popularity of all the lower river's beaches, both with Sonoma County residents and visitors from the larger Bay Area. Other public and private beaches, including Monte Rio Public Beach and Johnson's Beach and Resort in Guerneville, are also doing blockbuster business, officials say.
"Our beaches were the busiest they've been in 20 years on Memorial Day weekend," said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman. "We are getting more crowds, and we're getting more families coming in."