A very popular riding area north of Portland will be a bit safer this summer.
Today at their meeting in Salem, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission voted unanimously to ban alcohol use in the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area from May 1st to September 30th.
The ban comes after a recommendation by ODFW to stem the increase in drunk driving and other alcohol-related arrests and disturbances on Sauvie Island beaches within the boundaries of the wildlife area.
At today’s meeting commissioners heard a presentation from ODFW staff that alcohol use — and the crowds in general — on the beaches has gotten out of control. In the past five years the annual number of visitors to the wildlife area has reached nearly 1 million people — that’s more than Crater Lake National Park. About 65 percent of the annual visits happen during the summer month and the majority of those head right to the beaches on the island’s northeast corner.
“Sauvie Island Wildlife Area has become the party spot for the Portland metro area for the summer,” an ODFW staffer (whose name I couldn’t hear in the recording) told the commission.
A State Trooper who testified said he’s responded to alcohol poisonings, people passed out in the parking areas, and even arrested someone selling jello shots on the beach. And of course there have been a number of crashes on the roads that lead out to the beaches.
“One of our primary goals here is to prevent deaths,” the staffer said. “And there’s a large number of bicyclists who utilize Sauvie Island during the summer. Those are some very narrow roads and it’s not a good mix to have those bicyclists.”
One commissioner expressed hesitation about the law. “We already have laws that can punish these abusers,” he said. “But I think I’m going to support it primarily because the citizens from Sauvie Island have asked for it. Our great experiment as a country to ban alcohol didn’t work so well, but if the citizens of Sauvie Island said, ‘Yeah, we need to do this,’ than I’m willing to go along.”
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