In a little more than a week, thousands of people will descend on Lake Coeur d’Alene to watch the first hydroplane races held there since the last summer of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
There to greet this generation of race fans will be a heavy presence of law enforcement and private security, intent on keeping the Diamond Cup over Labor Day weekend safe, sober and orderly for everyone.
Organizers emphasize this is a family-oriented sport, and they’ve taken steps to prevent any chance of a repeat of the unruly crowds and clashes with police that marred the event for several consecutive years in the early 1960s. Through crowd controls on land and patrols on the lake, officials aim for three days of trouble-free cheering for the thunderous spectacle.
“This will be our first crack at having the Diamond Cup here and so we do hope that it’s going to be a smooth event,” said Lt. Stu Miller of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. “We hope that the folks who go there enjoy themselves and do so responsibly, because that makes everybody’s job much easier.”
The Diamond Cup hired Spokane-based Crown Management Services, which will have 65 security workers on shore and at the parking area for fans at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.
“Their main focus will be to run security at the fairgrounds, do bag checks at the fairgrounds and at the race site, and basically be section monitors and security at the race site,” said Diamond Cup President Doug Miller, who’s no relation to Stu Miller, on Wednesday.
Ticket holders for seating on shore will not be permitted to bring alcohol into the venue, and their coolers and bags will be searched upon boarding shuttle buses at the fairgrounds and again entering the race site.
Further, no alcohol concessions are allowed along the narrow, 2-mile viewing area. On either end of that stretch of shoreline, two restaurants – the Beachhouse and Tony’s on the Lake – will operate beer gardens.
The setting is one of the biggest differences from the old days of the Diamond Cup. The races will be held along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive and Silver Beach, just outside city limits – not off of Independence Point near downtown bars, as was the case in the 1950s and ’60s.
Also, the legal drinking age in Idaho was lower half a century ago. “For the most part it was 19 for beer back then and 21 for hard liquor,” Doug Miller said. “And Coeur d’Alene has always been a tavern town.”
Times have changed, and although the fun on shore will mostly be a dry affair, what happens on the water is another matter.
“I think the biggest thing we’re going to have during the races is folks potentially drinking like fish out on the water, you know, the alcohol flowing out there,” Sheriff’s Lt. Miller said.
It’s legal to have open containers in boats, and captains are allowed to drink. But it is illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated, which by law is a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher – same as on the road, he said.
Marine patrol deputies will cruise around the viewing areas keeping a sharp eye out for impaired boaters. “The races start at 8 o’clock in the morning, they end at 5 p.m. How much alcohol can they consume in that time?” Lt. Miller said.
Boat owners are paying $450 to $550 to tie up to a mile-long log boom to watch the races from the water, with more than 300 spots available. Officials expect many other boaters may troll for free vantage points in the area.
“You know, ma and pa that bring their boat over to sit out in the middle of the lake, we’re not going to harass them,” Lt. Miller said. “They’re not going to be seeing a whole bunch from that distance, because the buffer between the race course and the free zone right there is like half a mile.”
But marine patrols, including crews assisting from Spokane and Bonner counties, will try to keep rogue boaters from straying too close to the race course or making wakes that add to the water’s chop.
“On the water, since there’s no (traffic) lanes, people just try to drive around everything because they think, ‘Hey, that’s a throughway, I’m sure I’ve gone through there half a dozen times,’ ” Lt. Miller said. “We’re going to try to keep the boater traffic out of that area, and if they do come into that area, make sure they’re not producing a big wake that would interfere with the race.”
Back on land, extra police patrols will continue after the event ends each afternoon.
“We’re thinking in the downtown area we’ll see an increase in foot traffic, especially around the bars and such,” Miller said. “We’ll send a contingent of our folks downtown to assist Coeur d’Alene police to make sure there’s no problems.”