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Ripon Police worry about safety on Stanislaus River

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POSTED June 20, 2009 1:53 a.m.
RIPON – Taking advantage of Ripon’s natural jewel has long been a tradition for a families and adolescents alike.

But while making the most of the Stanislaus River – which has about five miles of shoreline with the city limits – is viewed by some as a rite of passage, the Ripon Police want to make sure that everyone enjoying themselves is doing so safely and legally.

According to Police Chief Richard Bull, the various access points to the river start to become quite popular with kids just before school gets out and remain busy throughout the summer and through the Labor Day weekend – offering a brief reprieve from the grueling heat that hits the valley during the summer.

It’s getting to the river and what you do when you’re there, he says, that keeps the police busy with monitoring the shoreline by both ATV and bicycle throughout the season.

“For the most part we have people that just want to go out to the river and have a good time and that isn’t a problem,” Bull said. “When you start to mix in kids and alcohol and some dangerous activities, then we’ve got a different story.”

Officers regularly monitor the areas for vandalism, underage drinking, and campfire-style fires – which are illegal and have been known to get out of control with the seemingly endless supply of dry brush serving as an accelerant.

And when a residential development and golf course were constructed at the southern end of Jack Tone Road, problems between those who used the route as an access point and those who call the area home started to escalate – leading to confrontations and violence that eventually thrust the matter before the City Council.

The installation of a camera that allows dispatchers to monitor the area has squashed some of the problems, Bull said, but they still do manage to come up when large groups start to frequent the area.

“We just want to remind people not to park in front of people’s driveways and to not use the parking lot at the golf course,” Bull said. “As long as people are considerate then we rarely have any problems.”

One of the oldest pastimes – floating the river – might be thrown a unique curveball later this year when the state budget crunch is expected to close Caswell Memorial State Park that used to serve as the end-point for many high schoolers who would park cars both up and down the river and let the slow current take them through the lazy day.

“When that shuts down this summer we don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” Bull said. “But when it comes to using the river, we want people to know that we’re not against it – we just want people to be safe and courteous when they’re doing it.”

Bull also warned swimmers that diving anywhere along the banks of the Stanislaus River is never a good idea because of submerged obstacles that shift with the current and might not be visible under murky waters – noting two cases last year where divers struck the bottom and had to be removed by ambulance with severe injuries.
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