Locals give mixed reaction to ban of alcohol on rivers

LAKE COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service issued an alcohol ban on certain stretches of local rivers last week — welcomed by some locals and opposed by others.

The closure would prohibit alcoholic beverages on the AuSable, Manistee and Pine rivers.

“The goal of these changes is to create a safer, more sustainable and more enjoyable recreational experience for the thousands of visitors who recreate on our congressionally-protected waterways each year,” said Nate Peeters, Forest Service public affairs officer.

There will be stretches of rivers in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, such as the Pine River, in which alcohol will be prohibited. (Courtesy photo/Huron-Manistee National Forest)

Those in violation could face a maximum penalty of $5,000 and up to six months imprisonment.

The closure order will remain in effect throughout the summer recreation season from May 24 to Sept. 2, 2019.

The ban will apply on and within 200 feet of the AuSable River, between Mio Dam Pond and 4001 Canoe Landing; Manistee River, between Tippy Dam and the Huron-Manistee National Forests’ Administrative Boundary; and Pine River, between Elm Flats and Low Bridge.

Lake County Road Commissioner Richard Runnels, who formerly owned a canoe business in Irons for nearly 40 years, said the ban is a bad move which could hurt businesses.

“This is horrible because it will wreck tourism. It’s going to hurt the county, which depends on tourism. People enjoy having a beer or two down the river, and now they won’t be able to,” he said. “The pendulum is swinging the wrong way and it’s hurting us. When we had a canoe business, the river was just packed during the summer season. We had to even turn some away on the weekends. About 90 percent of them brought alcohol. Now they will go elsewhere, like the Muskegon River.”

Lake County Planning Commissioner Ernie Wogatzke, an avid outdoorsman, said the ban on alcohol should have been put in place a long time ago.

“This should have been done years ago,” he said. “The rivers have been trashed with cans, and it is not good to have alcohol in a boat or canoe. It can tip out and delinquents could get a hold of it. I’ve seen all brands of beer and liquor roll down the river. Alcohol and canoeing does not mix. I’m surprised no one’s been killed or drowned.”

Baldwin resident and recreational hiker Sue Ann Crawford, also is happy to see the ban.

“Great move,” she said. “I am surprised that there aren’t more drownings now with all the drinking going on. Stay sober on the river and then afterwards go out to eat, have your drinks, wind down after a day out enjoying nature. As for trash, when you tip over, whatever isn’t tied down will float away.

“The first Thursday in August, the Boy Scouts have a clean-up day on the Pere Marquette River. We have found plenty of beverage cans, empty and full from canoes that tipped over and the goods got away. My biggest offense is the actions and language of those who had too much to drink. There are young people and families who don’t need to be exposed to that.”

Daniel Siwek, who vacations in Lake County, thinks the ban is too much interference from government officials, who he said shouldn’t legislate morality

“Nobody has the right to ban anything and/or control other humans,” he said.

Peeters said these rivers were selected for the ban because that’s where the most problems with drunk and disorderly behavior occurs.

“We are trying to fulfill a safety obligation to protect these rivers and the people on them,” he said, adding he has heard both negative and positive comments from the public, including people expressing the ban makes the river more family-friendly.

Private lands, developed campgrounds, and designated campsites within those river corridors will not be affected by the closure order, according to a forest service press release.

“The closure order is intended to address persistent public safety issues and protect natural resources on rivers of outstanding recreational value,” said Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor Leslie Auriemmo. “Our goal is to create a safer, more sustainable, and more enjoyable experience for the thousands of visitors who recreate on our National Wild and Scenic Rivers each year.

“Our National Wild and Scenic Rivers provide ample fresh water, critical fish and wildlife habitat, and family-friendly recreational opportunities. The Huron-Manistee National Forests are obligated to ensure that present and future generations can safely enjoy those benefits.”

The closure order and maps of the affected river corridors are available on the Huron-Manistee National Forests’ website.

For more information, contact the Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor’s Office at (231) 775-2421.


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