CADILLAC — Booze in boats? Not in these river corridors.
The National Forest Service announced this week that alcohol possession would be banned this summer on some parts of the Au Sable, Manistee and Pine Rivers.
"These are specifically the National Wild and Scenic River corridors,‘ explained Nate Peeters, public affairs officer for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. “These are congressionally-protected waterways."
The alcohol possession ban will last from May 24 to September 2, 2019.
You'll still be allowed to have alcohol on private land, developed campgrounds, and designated campsites within those river corridors.
But you can't transport the alcohol via the river. That means no coolers in canoes as you work your way from campground to campground. If you're camping along one of the rivers and plan to consume alcohol at the campground, you'll have to transport the alcohol by road.
The closure order is about public safety, according to a news release.
The National Forest Service has been seeing more users on the rivers, and with an increasing number of people on the rivers, there've been more problems with alcohol.
“We have an obligation to promote safe recreational activities," Peeters said. And peoples' behavior is making that difficult. “There’s always the concern the individual could drown or injure themselves or other people.‘
Litter is a big concern.
People have been dumping cans, bottles and jello shot containers, according to Peeters.
“That’s not good for flora and fauna in the river corridors," he said.
Forest service managers have been discussing whether to ban alcohol on parts of the Au Sable, Manistee and Pine Rivers since the end of the last recreation season, Peeters said.
The decision was based on where the need is highest, he said.
For instance, the Forest Service does not see a need to ban alcohol possession on the Pere Marquette, Peeters said. But needs change. The Forest Service will "continue to assess," he said.
“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, according to a news release. “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."
The alcohol possession ban will last from May 24 to September 2, 2019. It 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
Violating the law could result in six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, though Peeters stressed that is the maximum punishment; actual punishment is up to the courts and it's the Forest Service's understanding that typically only the most egregious, repeat violators would receive a sentence like that.
“Our mission at the outset as we roll this out is to educate the public," Peeters said. The Forest Service wants to educate people on the closure order, river safety and etiquette so people can be good stewards of the rivers, he said.
The Forest Service's decision met with some criticism Thursday.
State Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, said the decision isn't good for tourism in this area, where canoeing is a big tradition.
"This was a federal mandate," she wrote on Facebook. "Contact your congressman to express your thoughts respectfully."
Maps of the affected river corridors are available on the Huron-Manistee National Forests’ website, according to a news release. The Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor’s Office can be reached at (231) 775-2421.
UPDATE FRIDAY: This article has been updated to reflect the correct criminal penalty if convicted of violating the ban.