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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sweep targets unruliness on river

Cpl.Gary Yergler of the Shoshone County Sheriff

ENAVILLE, Idaho – The North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River has a reputation for being wild.

Lately, though, the wildness is less about crystal clear water and mountain scenery than the brawling and boozing brought on by hundreds of floaters who have been flocking to the river on these heat wave weekends.

Shoshone County Sheriff Chuck Reynalds is vowing to tame the river, especially in the wake of three major fights last weekend involving large groups of intoxicated floaters. Saturday afternoon, as the temperature was nearing 100 and the river was loaded with people, Reynalds and about two dozen law officers began the crackdown.

“We’re drawing a line in the sand,” Reynalds said, moments before the sweep. “What we’re trying to do is send a clear message: People can come here, recreate and behave themselves; otherwise they’re going to jail.”

For decades, the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River downstream from Bumblebee Bridge has been popular with swimmers and floaters. The water is clear and cold, the banks are shaded by tall cottonwoods and the drive from Coeur d’Alene takes less than an hour.

Complaints over unruly floaters and the litter they leave behind also stretch back at least a decade. But the crowds have simply gotten out of control, Reynalds said. Local residents and families are being scared away.

“We’re just struggling to hold on,” Reynalds said.

Many floaters openly violate the county’s ban on glass containers in the river corridor – resulting in dozens of cut feet each weekend. Others use private land along the river as bathrooms. Underage drinking and all-ages of drunken driving are also common, Reynalds said.

Officers began Saturday’s sweep by fanning out across the takeout point near Albert’s Place Bar. Assisting the county deputies were law officers from the U.S. Forest Service, the Idaho State Police and the Idaho Department of Corrections.

The officers checked the identification cards of young people coming off the river and scanned coolers and rafts for glass bottles. As news of the sweep spread, some floaters scrambled to reach the brushy shoreline upstream. Others could be seen slipping brown and green bottles overboard.

Four hours after the officers arrived, 15 people had been arrested and taken to jail on charges including public intoxication, drunken driving, resisting arrest, underage drinking and indecent exposure, said Shoshone County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Groves. The sweep was scheduled to continue through the evening with surprise visits to popular party spots and makeshift group campsites scattered across public land near the river.

George Duncan, a mildly sunburned resident of nearby Pinehurst, said the heavy presence of police was needed to remind floaters to respect the laws and to keep the river clean.

“I’m glad they’re doing this,” Duncan said, stepping onto the bank with a dripping inner tube hanging from his arm. “The litter’s getting to be too much.”

Upstream from the law officers, the North Fork was loaded with air mattresses, tubes and rafts. Many groups locked arms or tied their floats together. In one cluster, 48 people, including toddlers, were spread out on a dozen different rafts, not counting three floats dedicated to ferrying heavy cargoes of beer.

The floaters sipped from cans and baked in the intense sun, unaware of the sting downstream. Most were wearing various stages of sunburn – ranging from the faint pink of penicillin to the deep red of a boiled lobster. One man sprawled out on his air mattress with a can of Bud Light beer yelled to a photographer standing on shore. “Take a picture of my wife! She might even flash you!”

The woman kept her bikini top in place and kicked the man. He yelled back to the photographer, “Maybe she won’t!”

Apart from last weekend’s fights, most floaters say the river remains a calm, peaceful place. It’s also one of the few spots left where an afternoon of summertime fun doesn’t require an expensive entry ticket – floating the river is free.

“I’ve never seen one fight on this river,” said Shawn Smith, a 28-year-old Coeur d’Alene resident, who has been floating the river for 12 years. “I don’t think I’ve even had a single argument on this river. People are relaxed.”

Some groups of floaters left the river carrying bags of litter. “We pick it up as we go along,” said 23-year-old Daren Holst, from Coeur d’Alene, as he sipped a post-float can of Pabst beer. “It’s good times.”

Sheriff Reynalds said he doesn’t want to douse the fun on the North Fork. He just wants floaters to follow the laws and keep the river safe.

“We’ve warned and warned and warned,” Reynalds said. “I’m tired of warning.”