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By ROGER H. AYLWORTH - Staff Writer

Monday, September 04, 2000

Loud music, cold water, warm beer and bare flesh were abundant Monday when up to 12,000 people floated down the Sacramento River in what has become an annual end-of-summer ritual.

Cooler than normal temperatures and cloud dappled skies may have contributed to a slow start for what could well be the longest, wettest open party in the nation.

Tubers enter the water at Irving Finch River Access, near the Gianella Bridge on Highway 32, and drift down to one of several landing spots along River Road.

While things may have started a bit late, by 2 p.m. roughly 1,000 people were crowding the spit of sand that is known as "Beer Can Beach."

That number would steadily climb until every inch of available space from well upstream to well downstream of Beer Can Beach was packed.

Tubers make the mid-course stop at Beer Can Beach to stand in the sand, drink beer, and to encourage the less inhibited females in the crowd to dance topless on a log just off shore.

Chico State University's Associated Students added one more reason to stop to the list - collect the empties.

For several years the recycling arm of the AS has made it a project to collect what other student-age individuals left behind on Beer Can Beach.

Monday Barbara Kopicki, AS recycling coordinator, and other student volunteers, were out on the beach trying to collect cans.

"I see a lot of people using the (recycling) bins. It's neat because it (the recycling effort) came from the students," she said.

The AS plans to be back next weekend to continue the clean-up.

While the revelers floated, drank, and occasionally disrobed, 60 to 70 rescue personnel from 11 different public and private agencies joined in a very serious effort to see all the tubers lived through the day.

"Our primary goal is to get everybody down the river safely and home safely," said Bill Holmes, division chief with the Butte County Fire Department/California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, incident commander for Monday's day on the river.

Holmes conceded the number of personnel and the amount of equipment from agencies including the CDF, Butte County Fire Rescue, Glenn and Butte county offices of the California Highway Patrol, Butte and Glenn county sheriff's departments, Butte and Glenn county search and rescue teams, ambulances from Enloe Hospital, the First Responders, and Westside Ambulance service, is costly.

"We address the issue or look the other way and people die," said Holmes.

By 5 p.m. the emergency personnel had helped 11 tubers who were not in life-threatening situations, rescued three others who were caught on a snag and in serious trouble, and provided medical assistance for seven individuals. Two drunks ended up in the hands of law enforcement.

At about 5:30 p.m. a 19-year-old male was taken from the river to Enloe Hospital suffering from alcohol poisoning. No details on that case were immediately available.

Holmes said annual event also serves as a real-world drill, in that several agencies coordinate their efforts and communications in a scheduled planned event, with real rescues.

While others tried to keep things safe, a pair of long-time floaters added music to the situation.

Chad Zimmermann, a DJ who runs his own music business and plays for many Chico State fraternities, and his buddy, Derek Docher, floated a full sound system, generator and stacks of CDs to Beer Can Beach for the day.

"We just want people to have fun," said Docher.

He said it cost him and Zimmermann about $200 for the day on the beach.

"Doin' stuff like this isn't about money. I just graduated and I can't leave Chico," said Docher, "This is like a fairy tale."

As the crowd grew and became more boisterous, the DJ's sound system was used to help drive the cheering for women to bare their assets for the crowd.

With the crowd, both male and female, yelling for the women on the log to go topless, Kopicki, the recycling coordinator shook her head and smiled.

Kopicki has been in Chico since 1993, so the Labor Day debauch is not new to her.

In a time where political correctness is everywhere, is this year 2000 behavior?

"This is 1990, 2000, and 2010 behavior," she said.

"Everybody's out here having fun and drinking their beer," Kopicki observed