WELLSTON — Soon after the forest service announced in February that parts of the Au Sable, Manistee and Pine rivers would have alcohol possession bans during the 2019 season, people started criticizing the decision.
The U.S. Forest Service quickly opted to lift the ban and form a working group of community partners to develop an action plan that emphasizes public safety and the preservation of natural resources on the congressionally-protected “wild and scenic‘ sections of the AuSable, Manistee, and Pine rivers. That plan was unveiled at a press conference Wednesday at the Norman Township Hall in Manistee County.
Instead of an outright ban of alcohol on those sections of the aforementioned rivers, the action plan calls for changing the current culture some exhibit while enjoying the rivers through education of the public about the value and benefit of the wild and scenic stretches of those waterways. It also hopes to empower visitors to be good river stewards.
That will be accomplished through partnerships between the forest service, community groups, local businesses and other partners that will develop and distribute content that promotes river safety and etiquette.
Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor Leslie Auriemmo said while the alcohol ban is not being implemented, it is still an option if the action plan doesn’t have its desired impact. While it is an option, Auriemmo said there is no timeline in place for there to be results and for now they are just waiting to see how this summer goes. The issue will be re-evaluated in the fall after the current season concludes.
“I don’t expect it will go away overnight but I hope by the end of the season we say, ‘It is starting to die down on these rivers,’‘ she said.
Pine River Paddlesports co-owner Jake Miltner is outspoken when it comes to what he thinks about the issue.
He said he wanted to be part of the work group after the forest service lifted the alcohol ban in February because he sees what is it is like on the river during the weekends in the summer. He also said he doesn’t believe a lot of people who were upset about the alcohol ban really know what it is like during the summer on the river.
From his experience, Miltner said he fully supports an alcohol ban and doesn’t believe the idea of educating the public will solve this issue.
“I want to see an environment where families can come and not hear an ‘F-bomb’ from across the parking lot. They don’t have to see a guy urinate on himself because he is so drunk,‘ he said. “They don’t have to see someone throwing up out the side of a canoe. (Women/girls) don’t have to be harassed by guys on the bank offering beads to expose themselves.‘
While he respects the work that has been put in by those involved, to him the issue ultimately comes down to alcohol abuse and these behavioral issues will likely continue.
Throughout the summer the forest service will work to develop safety-oriented public service announcements, organize outreach and volunteer events in those three wild and scenic river corridors and provide mesh bags and ties to river users at landings, liveries and other local businesses.
Additionally, the forest service will conduct educational outreach and public safety patrols to protect visitors and preserve the wild and scenic rivers. Those efforts will include the presence of recreational staff at river landings and joint law enforcement patrols with state and local partners in the river corridors this summer.
“All Americans should have the opportunity to experience their wild and scenic rivers,‘ Auriemmo said. “Our goal is to maintain a culture of respect and responsibility that preserves our natural resources, attracts visitors, and benefits local communities.‘
Members of the public may share questions and comments about the action plan by emailing email@example.com, calling (231) 775-2421, or sending a letter to the Huron-Manistee National Forests, ATTN: Community Working Group, 1755 S Mitchell Street, Cadillac, MI 49601.