Officials on High Alert as Rafters, Boaters Flock to American River for Fourth of July

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SACRAMENTO -- Area waterways are a natural place for locals to enjoy the Fourth of July but safety is a concern, and that’s why rangers in Sacramento County parks were out in force Thursday.

One activity that kicks up a notch along the American River Parkway is rafting and that has taken on a different look over the past few years. Rafting season got off to a slow start this year because of the cool and rainy weekends leading into the summer.

This July 4th drew the usual crowd of rafters to the river to enjoy a float downstream to start off their holiday.

“It’s going to be a busy day, a lot of people are out, the weather’s perfect,” said Sacramento County Regional Parks Chief Ranger Michael Doane.

Rangers were on hand at the Sunrise Boulevard access to make sure children under 13 had their required life vests on, although they wished more adults would do the same.

“Due to the swiftness and the temperature of the water to wear life jackets, but as you see a lot of people decide to go in without it and that concerns us,” Doane told FOX40.

Downstream at Tiscornia Park, the Community Emergency Response Team, which is affiliated with the Sacramento Fire Department, brought its cache of life vests to distribute to families picnicking near the water.

“The confluence of the rivers is the most dangerous place because of the tides and the currents that come through here,” said CERT Incident Commander Rick Beymer. “Plus, there’s the wing wall, which is out there for erosion control, and so that makes the currents even more treacherous.”

Along major sections of the American River alcohol is prohibited. After problems with drunkenness and rowdy behavior, it was banned during the major holidays both onshore and on the water.

It’s been in effect for several years but is still disappointing for some rafters.

“It’s disappointing honestly, you know. I mean, Fourth of July floating the river, having a couple of beers, I feel like that’s the way you should enjoy the Fourth,” said rafter Chris Messic.

Under protest, the group followed the law and do their drinking after their trip.

“I think it should be opposite. If they don’t want us to drink, let us on the Fourth of July, right?” said rafter Jessica Roush. “It’s supposed to be freedom day, so whatever. I don’t like that we can’t drink beer, but we’re going to drink it afterwards.”

On the other hand, rangers said since the ban, there are now more families on the river who appreciate the ban.

“I think it’s a good thing because Fourth of July is a family holiday,” said Marques Brown, who was with his family Thursday. “It’s when a lot of families get together and we all enjoy the river and the festivities. So, yeah, I think it’s a good thing.”

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Boaters Flood to the River for July 4th

The boat ramp at Discovery Park had a steady stream of boaters enjoying a pleasant day, and in some cases evening, out on the water. Sometimes the boat harbor had the look of a traffic jam as boaters jockeyed for a position.

“A little crazy, maybe careless people. That’s why we’re getting out of here,” said fisherman Francisco Daniel.

Just as boaters were heading in, Daniel was taking his boat out after a few hours of fishing. He said he knows what it’s like on the Sacramento and American rivers on the Fourth of July.

“A lot of these people don’t have permits, I mean certificates, for boater safety and that’s one of the biggest problems, the young people,” he told FOX40.

Jet skiing and boating are popular activities on the holiday. It doesn’t take long to figure out that many riders don’t have much practice at it.

Long-time boater Steve Hertel was extra cautious to avoid mishaps on the Fourth.

“A lot of people having fun, a little too much alcohol and a lot of inexperience,” Hertel said.

At Tiscornia Park, picnickers were packed on the shore. This winter’s higher waters made for a smaller beach. It also made for shallow water up to the edge of a steep drop-off into the channel.

“The thing people don’t know is that as you’re going out, this beach drops off suddenly and you could fall into a hole really fast,” said Sacramento City Fire Capt. Dave Lauchner. “The current is super strong underneath the water and you just can’t tell from looking at it from on the surface. So you got to be careful.”

The community emergency response team was on hand to render medical aid.

The confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers is notorious for fast cold currents and is the sight of numerous drownings over the years. Even strong swimmers are at risk.

“You may just get caught up by the cold water and not realize it’s hitting you until it’s too late,” Lauchner said.

The alcohol ban in the area didn’t stop boaters piloting powerful boats and watercraft.

“There’s a lot of the jet skiers that don’t understand because they can make the turn and boats aren't watching what they’re doing,” Hertel said.

People will still be out on the water through the long holiday weekend.

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