Most Viewed Stories
Labor Day tradition: ‘You just get in and go with the flow'
More than 12,000 people, mostly students from Chico State entered the Sacramento River at Irvine Finch Park in Hamilton City on Sunday in what has become one of the largest Labor Day traditions in the country.
Students set off from Irvine Finch Park to Scotty's Landing, stopping for a few hours to party at one of the gravel inlets known as Beer Can Beach.
"It's a blast," said Kyle Ritchardson, 21, just before entering the water for his third Labor Day float. "You just get in and go with the flow."
Most of the students safely floated to their destination a few miles downstream to the landing, but dozens were rescued from the water by law enforcement from Glenn and Butte Counties, or were assisted by officers stationed on snags and sand bars.
One woman got caught on a tree branch, but was rescued when a Butte County Search and Rescue officer managed to break the snag.
Both ended up with cuts and bruises, but no serious injury, said Glenn County Undersheriff Rich Warren.
Just getting to Irvine Finch to get into the water was an ordeal for many of the students.
Highway 32 was backed up to Hamilton City with cars trying to maneuver around hundreds of students carrying large, inflatable tubes and rafts, or vehicles parked on both sides of the highway.
Many students parked at their final destination of Scotty's Landing on the east side of the river in Butte County, and either walked all the way around to Irvine Finch or caught a taxi.
About a dozen charter buses dropped students off at the river access and had arranged to pick them up downstream later in the evening.
While waiting for friends, McKenzie Kelley, Miranda Freeman and Kelly Christensen, all 18, said they were looking forward to their first time on the river.
"I've floated on the Truckee River," said Christensen. "It's a lot of fun."
Warren said response teams made 63 water rescues and 124 assists on Sunday.
About 40 people were given medical attention, most related to excessive alcohol consumption, including one man who was taken from the triage center to Enloe Medical Center by ambulance.
"For the most part, it went pretty well," Warren said. "We didn't have a lot of problems. There was one felony arrest stemming from a fight. He was arrested for battery causing great bodily injury."
One girl was helped off the beach with broken bones in her hand after falling on the rocks, and there were a variety of other foot, knee and hand injuries that needed treatment at the scene.
Although drunkenness posed the greatest threat to the safety of students and law enforcement personnel during the holiday event, many students chose not to make alcohol a part of the celebration.
"This is the first year our group decided not to bring beer or wine," said Chase DeWitt, 23. "We have some younger people with us, so we decided not to risk getting in trouble if something happened."
Other students choosing to drink alcohol on the water, said they had a designated driver who would not drink at all.
Officials said the Sunday before Labor Day is typically the time most people float down the river.
The event has grown from only a few hundred people 30 years ago to as many as 23,000 some years, largely due to social networking, officials said.
Only about 1,500 people went into the water on Saturday, including a few students who came down to test the water or their floatation devises before Sunday's event.
"I thought that was pretty smart," said Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones.
About 500 people were at the park on Monday, which is typical for Labor Day, Warren said.
On all three days, there were a few incidents at the park before floaters went into the water.
Park officials confiscated glass bottles before they made their way into the river and treated a few injuries.
One person was treated for a reaction to a bee sting and another was treated for hand and foot injuries after tripping and falling on the pavement.
The majority of students behaved responsibly, officials said.
Even Beer Can Beach, a name given a gravel inlet where most of the students stopped to party, was cleaned and restored to order by a few people camping at the site overnight.
"It's nice to see young people laughing and having a good time," said Hamilton City Hamilton Fire Department Chaplain Lupe Phillips. "That is what life is all about."