A Washington State University fraternity is facing a federal misdemeanor charge over something that’s become a regional rite of summer for some Greek houses: rafting parties on the Salmon River.
More than 100 people associated with Alpha Kappa Lambda camped and partied last September at Short’s Bar, a beach area and boat ramp on the lower Salmon River about a mile upstream from Riggins, Idaho, according to court records and federal officials.
“They did not get a permit because we would not give them a permit because of past problems we’ve had with that group,” said Luverne Grussing, an outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Management office in Cottonwood. “They decided to come anyway.”
The fraternity faces Class A misdemeanor charges for camping without a permit and without paying the $4-per-person nightly camping fee, and an additional charge for violating a temporary ban against the house stemming from violations in 2002. If the fraternity is found guilty, it could face fines in the thousands of dollars.
“I think all everyone is after in this situation is cooperation in the future – something that sends a strong enough message to this particular group,” said Jean McNeil, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise, which is prosecuting the case.
Grussing said the fraternity is one of three from WSU that his office has banned over concerns ranging from littering, improper fires, driving on the beach and problems related to drinking. He said that August and September each year are busy at those beaches with fraternity groups from WSU and the University of Idaho getting ready to return to school.
“We’ve had a number of problems with the whole fraternity scene on the river,” he said. “Some of the fraternities are great, and we’ve never had a problem with them, and some we’ve had numerous and recurring problems.”
The trips can include a lot of students drinking on the river without wearing life jackets, creating a risky environment, he said.
The fraternity’s president, Paul McNeal, declined a request for an interview Friday. WSU officials who work with student discipline and the Greek system said they’ve been in contact with federal officials about the case and are conducting their own investigation.
Chris Wuthrich, associate director of the Office of Student Conduct, said his office’s probe is ongoing and he couldn’t say much about it. However, he said the university wants to address concerns about student behavior.
He said he knows the Short’s Bar area is popular with WSU students. “Most of our students manage to raft and camp without any problems,” he said.
He said once the investigation is complete, his office can impose a variety of sanctions, most of which involve providing more information to the members of the Greek house involved.
Anita Cory, director of Greek Life at WSU, said rafting trips have been a popular excursion over the years, more for fraternities than sororities, whose national organizations tend to limit their activities more.
She said lots of WSU students come from the Seattle area, and some aren’t familiar with camping, rafting or guidelines for how to treat the outdoors. In cases where complaints arise, she said her office helps keep communications going between Greek houses and law enforcement officials.
In the current case, the fraternity has a history of rules violations at Short’s Bar, federal officials say. The fraternity was ordered by a judge in May to retain an attorney for the case; the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, filed a motion in June asking that the fraternity be ordered to show why it had not complied. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for today in federal court in Coeur d’Alene.