Labor Day sobers under police vigil

Nicholas Carr Glenn County Sheriff’s deputies watch swimmers as they begin the journey south on the Sacramento River from Irvine Finch Boating Access Area.
Nicholas Carr
Glenn County Sheriff’s deputies watch swimmers as they begin the journey south on the Sacramento River from Irvine Finch Boating Access Area.

Bringing an end to the chaotic revelry of years past, Butte and Glenn county law enforcement descended on the Sacramento River last weekend to enforce an alcohol ban targeted at the traditional Labor Day float.

Last year’s float saw roughly 10,000 people on the river, said Sgt. Kirk Coon, a state park ranger.

After a quiet Saturday with Butte County Sheriff’s deputies reporting less than 100 float participants on the water, roughly 3,000 took to the river Sunday and filed through a series of checkpoints for a floating experience controlled by more than a dozen different law enforcement agencies.

“We have had to turn a few away due to the level of intoxication,” said Sgt. Todd James of Glenn County Sheriff’s department.

Although most of the river’s guests were acting peaceably, police made three arrests on the Glenn County riverbank by 2:30 p.m., James said. In addition to the arrests, which were for alcohol violations, police issued several citations for smuggling liquor onto the river.

The first participants began to show up around 10 a.m. Sunday, he said. By 10:45 a.m. the first charter bus ferrying people between Chico and the landing had shown up.

“Most of them have been coming in on party and charter buses,” James said.

Despite this, the south lane of Highway 32 crossing over the Sacramento River down to the outskirts of Hamilton City was flanked by more than 100 trucks and cars.

The Butte County Sheriff’s office issued the following citations by 3 p.m.: one drunk in public, two driving under the influence, two minor in possession and one possession of narcotics.

In addition, first responders assisted 50 people and rescued 33 float participants by that time.

Denise Rist, a superintendent at the Parks and Recreation Department, joined with Glenn County Sheriff’s deputies to screen the swimmers for contraband as they made their way down to the landing.

“Most of them are voluntarily giving it up,” she said.

Out on the river, floaters were closely observed by first responders from several different agencies, including California Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Recreation.

From jet skis and patrol boats, they spent the day cruising through the ranks of tubes issuing citations and taking people back to shore.

By 6 p.m., a majority of the day’s participants were out of the water. As they lazily drifted towards the float’s end, at a beachhead a few hundred meters south of Scotty’s Landing, staff from Chico River Adventures guided them in.

Elvert Richardson and Ian Coleman had started the day at Irvine Finch Boating Access Area, where they provided compressed air for tubes and rafts. At the end of the day, they helped swimmers out of the river and cleaned up the trash left in their wake.

Despite the pile of tubes left at the bottom of the hill, both Richardson and Coleman agreed that the environmental impact was significantly less than in previous years.

The difference was the result of the alcohol ban more than the number of participants, Coleman said. While they were nearly finished with a quick cleanup by 6:30 p.m., in the past the river would be clogged with beer cans.

“This is the cleanest I’ve ever seen it,” Richardson said. “And I’ve lived in Chico my whole life.”


Nicholas Carr can be reached at [email protected] or @NickolasCarr on Twitter.