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Are crowds at Northern California lakes too unruly? 'Everybody's in the same boat,' officials say

Camila Pedrosa and Elise Fisher, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

As crowds head to cool off in the water early this summer, authorities at Discovery Park, Folsom Lake and other capital region waterways are taking steps to prevent incidents such as the ones that have occurred recently at other Northern California watering holes.

There have been various incidents reported since Memorial Day involving fights and other unruly crowds at Northern California waterways that have led to arrests, injuries, and even death.

A fight broke out at Lake Berryessa on Saturday that left one person dead from a gunshot wound and five others with stabbing injuries. One person among the injured was arrested on suspicion of grabbing his gun from his vehicle during the melee, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

In Stanislaus County on Sunday, 75 to 80 people had a confrontation with deputies who were patrolling near Woodward Reservoir. At least six people were arrested.

And, around Memorial Day, officials on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe shut down Zephyr Cove and several other beaches after numerous reports of fights among tourists.

Sgt. Elmer Marzan of the Sacramento County Regional Parks said he believes the county’s waterways are safe in part because alcohol is banned in certain spots along the American River Parkway and at Discovery Park near the confluence of the American. Officials also restrict drinking along the waterways during major summer holidays.


“We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had anything of that magnitude that occurred at Berryessa or Tahoe,” Marzan said.

Barry Smith, Chief Ranger of the Gold Fields District of California State Parks, pointed to an alcohol ban at Folsom and Natoma lakes — as well as state park-specific rangers who patrol the area — as key factors in preventing lakefront incidents.

Folsom Lake beaches are especially crowded in June and on the days temperatures first heat up above 90 degrees, Smith said, but he noticed a change in how crowds behave since the shoreline alcohol ban was enacted in 2003. Officials also hold boating DUI checkpoints several times during the summer.

“I saw the change where beaches were really rowdy to where families started to come back,” Smith said.


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