this was in the post dispatch----on Sunday the 20th
wtf...Floaters: Rangers buckling down on bad behavior
By Tom Uhlenbrock
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, May. 20 2007
EMINENCE, Mo. â€” From the Huzzah and the Courtois in the Meramec Valley, to the
Current and Jacks Fork deep in the Missouri Ozarks, there's a new theme for
this float season: Take back the rivers.
On too many summer Saturdays, Missouri's glistening, gravel-bottomed streams
favored by canoeists, rafters and kayakers have been surrendered to partyers
intent on making them aquatic versions of Bourbon Street. But those party
animals will be playing by a new set of rules this year on the rivers under
Noel Poe said he has been hearing complaints since he took over five years ago
as superintendent of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park that
takes in the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.
"Abuse of alcohol, use of drugs, disorderly conduct, fighting, nudity in what I
call the Mardi Gras syndrome, even some public sex on the rivers," Poe said.
"The problem is that during the late '90s, we lost control of the rivers. They
became known as party rivers.
"Typically, it was just eight summer Saturdays, from the end of June through
the middle of August."
The problem disappeared on weekdays and Sundays, but advising families to stay
away from the national park on Saturdays because of the rowdy behavior was not
an option, Poe said. Imagine giving up Yellowstone or Yosemite to the drunks
and dope smokers.
Instead, the National Park Service has instituted several new rules this year
and will have its 18 law enforcement rangers, and additional forces, on the
most popular gravel bars and gathering spots this summer to advise floaters of
"Beer bongs of all types are prohibited," Poe said. "It used to be a funnel and
tube, now they're coming with bongs made out of PVC pipe with three or four
funnels rigged to a central distribution system. Beer kegs of any size are
prohibited, and no Jell-O shots.
"If a ranger catches somebody with a big string of Mardi Gras beads, they'll
tell them they will be busted if they solicit. If a woman bares her breasts,
we're going to cite her for disorderly conduct."
Alcohol will be permitted, but a recommendation will be made that floaters
drink no more than six cans of beer or an equivalent amount of hard liquor.
"Alcohol is not banned in the park," Poe said. "I am going to try some other
Foam coolers are barred because of their potential for breaking up and leaving
debris in the water, and other coolers are limited to 48-quart size.
Air horns are barred, and an existing regulation that bans noise in national
parks above 80 decibels will be enforced for stereos. "They'll rent an inner
tube, set a stereo on top of it, and it just blasts away," Poe said. "We have
purchased decibel readers, and several rangers will have them to control the
Cliff diving and rope swings are banned in the park for the first time this
year. "It's extremely hazardous, plus nobody wants to dive off a cliff when
there's nobody there watching," Poe said. "It just attracts a party atmosphere.
Then somebody shows up with a stereo system playing loud music, and things just
Another hazardous favorite, "dry ice bombs" made of dry ice inside plastic
bottles, also will be banned, Poe said.
ATVs and other vehicles are barred from entering the rivers and are permitted
only on designated roads in the park. "We got money this year to go in and sign
the roads," Poe said. "Vehicles have to stay 100 feet from the river, unless
they're in developed areas. It's a rule we haven't been enforcing, but we're
trying to get the word out."
To seize banned items and issue citations, which carry fines from $75 to $525
depending on the violation, the National Park Service will be at full staff on
weekends and get help from the Missouri Water Patrol and Department of
Uniformed park service rangers will be on gravel bars and other key points on
the rivers, and others will be watching popular gathering spots undercover. "We
want more visibility," Poe said. "But typically it may be the highway patrolman
hiding behind the billboard that catches you for speeding."
As superintendent of the national park, Poe was able to put the regulations in
place by directive. The changes were made after meetings hosted by state
conservation officials and attended by canoe outfitters, resort owners,
environmentalists, service organizations and citizens interested in curbing the
raunchy behavior. But the new regulations cover only the 134 miles of the
Current and Jacks Fork rivers within the park. Poe lamented that they couldn't
"The last things I want to do is take the bad characters and drive them to
other rivers â€” I'd prefer they reform, but I'm not that naive," he said. "I may
be causing my partners problems, but we've got to get control of these two
"We're getting the wrong reputation here in Missouri."
Lt. Nick Humphrey of the water patrol said Missouri has the dubious distinction
of recording the most maritime drug arrests â€” for each year of the last decade.
"Missouri has led the nation not only for boating under the influence of
alcohol â€” that's mainly because of the Lake of the Ozarks â€” but also for
maritime enforcement units making drug arrests," Humphrey said. "Our big three
on the riverways, in this order, are drug possession, minors in possession of
alcohol and littering. We also get quite a few assault cases.
"We average over 1,200 a year for drug arrests. There are all different kinds
of fines. It depends on the county where the arrest is made."
Humphrey said most of the offenders pull up to a gravel bar and are partying
with drugs and alcohol, only to find they are being watched by a surveillance
officer in the bushes. "Absolutely," he said. "That's how a lot of drug arrests
The water patrol this season will have 94 officers working the state's lakes
and rivers, with special assignments for the Current, Jacks Fork, Eleven Point,
Meramec, Huzzah and Courtois. Because of previous assaults on officers,
Humphrey said, it is mandatory that the water patrol works in pairs on river
"There are safety issues when you have drunkenness and drug use and large
crowds," he said. "We had an officer hit on the head with a rock and had to be
On problem weekends, the patrol will attack a designated section of a river
that is known for partying, he said.
"We pull officers from other parts of the state and saturate an area," Humphrey
said. "It makes a good statement that we're working that area pretty hard. We
usually do it on Saturdays, when we get the most bang for our buck."
The crackdown on raunchiness has the blessing of many of the canoe outfitters
and resort owners who depend on the rivers for their livelihood.
Four outfitters in the Meramec River Valley who put canoes, rafts and kayaks on
the upper Meramec, Huzzah and Courtois are instituting a new regulation of
their own â€” a size limit of 52 quarts for coolers. The four are Ozark Outdoors,
Huzzah Valley, Bass River Resort and the Rafting Company.
"That's still a big cooler," said Bear Bass, who rents canoes, cabins and
campsites at Ozark Outdoors on the Meramec near Leasburg. "But you pass on a
subliminal message to people: Don't be drinking so much. I'm building a rack
just like you see for measuring carry-on luggage at the airport."
And Bass welcomes additional law officers on his section of the rivers.
"Some of the real craziness is happening because there hasn't been law
enforcement for several years," he said. "Floating is a social atmosphere. I
don't want to discourage that. But I definitely want to discourage the rude
Alan Peters, owner of River's Edge Resort on the Jacks Fork at Eminence,
praised Poe for his crackdown. "He's taking the bull by the horns," he said of
Peters suggested a ban on another irritating practice, smacking a flat paddle
on the surface of the water so it makes a sound like a rifle shot.
"People like that need to be reminded that rental canoes have numbers on them,"
Peters said. "I don't believe the concessionaires want those people to come in
and ruin it for everybody else. They need to be turned in, just like a bad
That is the whole point of float trips in Missouri..."Beer bongs of all types are prohibited," Poe said. "It used to be a funnel and tube, now they're coming with bongs made out of PVC pipe with three or four funnels rigged to a central distribution system. Beer kegs of any size are prohibited, and no Jell-O shots. "If a ranger catches somebody with a big string of Mardi Gras beads, they'll tell them they will be busted if they solicit. If a woman bares her breasts, we're going to cite her for disorderly conduct."