April 1, 2020

Floating Down Drunk River

By Stephen Tuttle | March 23, 2019

The National Forest Service recently proposed an alcohol ban on stretches of the AuSable, Manistee, and Pine rivers within the Huron/Manistee National Forest. It was a response to the drunken crudity taking place there on summer weekends. 
Private property, campsites, and developed campgrounds along the rivers were excluded.
Sadly, but predictably, a public outcry followed. More than 54,000 people signed online petitions demanding the ban be rescinded. There are problems aplenty we choose to ignore in northern Michigan, but we will not tolerate any deprivation of our precious alcohol. 
The Forest Service chose to backtrack and is now seeking a solution, for at least a year, that does not include the ban. They are gathering stakeholders — and holding meetings in private — to consider new policies. They hope more public education, outreach, and peer pressure will help turn the tide and restore some river sanity. 
They might as well save their time and energy.
The notion that the problems are being caused by a handful of knuckleheads while most “drink responsibly” on the rivers is nonsense. The knuckleheads arrive in hordes, despoiling the rivers and the experience for others floating or paddling. The problem isn't the few; it's the alcohol being consumed by too many.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks Michigan as the 10thdrunkest state in the country, wedged not so proudly between Maine and Nebraska. (Not surprisingly, the drunkest metro area was Lansing/East Lansing.) More than 20 percent of Michigan adults drink “excessively,” and at least that many binge drink, which the CDC defines as more than four drunks in one session for women, five for men. Fully 30 percent of our automobile deaths are alcohol related, and it's hard to remember the last time a story about a snowmobile death did not include “ … authorities believe alcohol was a factor … .”
It seems we have more issues with alcohol than just on the rivers. 
No one knows for sure when the idiocy started on the AuSable, Manistee, or Pine Rivers, but we know it's here. Once such a party place has been established, every weekend becomes a mini spring-break bacchanal during which common sense, and often decency, is replaced by a race to see who can kill the most brain cells.
In Arizona, where revelers float the Salt and Verde rivers by the tens of thousands on summer weekends, they tried plenty of public education, strict enforcement of a number of laws and ordinances, visible police presence, and effort after effort, but still the drunkenness continued. Jumping from a riverside cliff, often to the detriment of the jumper, became so popular the state finally blew up the cliff. Once traditions start, they are difficult to stop. 
Aside from the obnoxious and dangerous alcohol-related behavior, alcohol itself is not so good for us. 
More than 88,000 deaths a year are attributed to alcohol. More will be coming. Ethanol, the drug that gives our drinks their impact, is a known carcinogen.
According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol can now be linked to cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breasts. As a bonus, there is substantial evidence it also increases the risk of pancreatic and stomach cancer. 
There is even now unproven speculation that the dramatic rise in colon cancer among younger people — those born in 1990 are twice as likely to develop colon cancer and four times more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those born in 1950 —  might be alcohol related. 
This is not a plea for a return to prohibition. But our reaction to the Forest Service's on-the-river alcohol ban speaks to our cavalier attitude toward a dangerous drug and our apparent need to consume it everywhere.
There should be some places families and others can enjoy without worrying about the unpredictable and offensive behavior of the drinking and drunken set. Nature is a good place to start since it requires no artificial enhancements. And, yes, it will also restrict those safely enjoying a cold one during their river journey, but they’ll likely take less issue with waiting until they're out of the water. 
The Forest Service was right to impose the ban, and one assumes it will return in 2020 when their temporary solutions prove futile. The jerks will keep arriving in numbers, littering and offending and discouraging anyone else from enjoying a beautiful day on three of nature's gifts to us.
If you're going to the river to drink, then you've missed the point of being on the river.  And if you can't go a few hours on the river without drinking, then you have issues deeper than the river you're probably poorly navigating. Since you apparently must, wait until you're off the water, and then get drunk. 


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