Drunken fights, dangerous parking and mounds of litter are among the results of large parties that have broken out on certain popular Russian River beaches in recent years, irking homeowners.
In an effort to discourage the raucous activity, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office is increasing the number of deputies patrolling the beaches this summer, beginning Memorial Day weekend. The CHP will also be keeping an eye out for illegally parked cars and drunken drivers.
They'll be focusing on several areas that have been most popular in the past: Fitch Mountain Road, Del Rio Beach and Camp Rose, all near Healdsburg, and Steelhead Beach near Forestville. The increased patrols will continue throughout the summer, with an emphasis on holidays.
"We don't want people to be afraid to go there, but if they're going to go, we want them to be respectful of the river and the neighbors," Sheriff's Lt. Mark Essick said.
County Supervisor Mike McGuire echoed the sentiment, saying, "The bottom line is we want people to enjoy the river this Memorial Day, but we want them to be safe as well."
The parties are generally biggest on holiday weekends, said Donita Proctor, president of the Fitch Mountain Association, a homeowner's group. For years, partiers have flocked in large numbers to a small island in between Del Rio and Camp Rose beaches, parking along the narrow Fitch Mountain Road and blocking homeowners' emergency escape route in an area that is considered at high risk for wildfires.
"We are especially grateful(for the efforts) because of what I consider a danger" on the road, Proctor said.
A parking area at Del Rio Beach includes 17 to 20 spots, but they fill up quickly, said Al Pucci, a board member of Del Rio Woods Recreation and Parks District, which oversees Del Rio Beach. The beach is about a quarter-mile upstream from the island, and occasionally revelers stop there on their downriver float to the island.
Residents believe that youths spread word about the parties through social media, increasing the turnout to sometimes more than 100 people.
"What we've seen is literally floating flotillas, with a DJ and people drinking heavily, in the Fitch Mountain area," McGuire said. "This has led to mountains of garbage, fights and unsightly behavior."
In the past, revelers have left behind a scene of wreckage that included a half-submerged beer pong table, a broken tent canopy, empty beer bottles and discarded tampon applicators. Nearby homeowners end up cleaning up the mess.
Calls over the 2013 Fourth of July weekend included a report of about 150 people on the island, loud music, a fight involving a knife, parking violations and underage drinking.
Efforts to crack down on the violations began several years ago when frustrated residents met with Supervisors Mike McGuire and Efren Carrillo and law enforcement officials to see what could be done. In 2011, the Sheriff's Office and CHP agreed to step up patrols in the area.
"We've been throwing our efforts at it since 2011, and we've been seeing good results," Essick said. Calls for service have gone down slightly since then, though the issues persist.
Carrillo said residents in his district have voiced concerns about partying on certain beaches for years, but that the issues have intensified recently as the river has grown more popular.