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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Party heat: Rowdy river special to air

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The film crew from TruTV who visited the Spring River area during Labor Day weekend last year will finally debut their film Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. on TruTV. The film is a special in their Party Heat series titled "Rowdy River" and documents the four day rally with local officers and river patrol as they monitor partiers on the Spring River.

During the summer months, the number of citations for DWI, disorderly conduct and other offenses, including a shooting last summer are significantly higher than the rest of the year in both Fulton and Sharp County on the Spring River. Many enjoy their weekends canoeing, camping, and fishing along the river that has been a huge tourist attraction in the area for nearly 75 years because of its natural beauty and central location for visitors from several surrounding states.

Over the last few years, the river has come under scrutiny from locals regarding the out-of-town visitors who come and litter the river with their cans and trash. The majority of the people come from to the river and are responsible for the bulk of the arrests are not from locals, but those who come from areas such as Memphis and Mississippi to spend weekends on the river, according to Salem Police Chief Albert Roork.

The problems have forced Arkansas Game and Fish officers, officers with both counties and State Police to patrol the river, campgrounds and roads going into these areas for the safety reasons. Many families opt for their young children to be able enjoy the river in the same way as they did and not to be flashed by partiers on their trek down the river from Mammoth Spring to various take out points all the way to Hardy. Many drunken partiers can be seen blatantly ignoring the rules, including having glass containers in their canoes and rafts as they float down the river and throwing out both trash and glass along the float. Many pass out within their boats and canoes. Other times, these partiers can be seen vomiting, urinating and cursing from canoes, rafts and tubes on their float down the river, others become sexually inappropriate both on the canoes and banks along the river.

Arkansas State Trooper "Buck" Foley said their department works road blocks continually during the summer weekends and said there are between 50-60 DWI and other related arrests compared to one to two the rest of the year, so there is undoubtedly a huge problem in the area.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Department has a policy for out-of-towners who are cited for offenses on the river, that their bond is a cash only bond with no option for bonding companies, as many have in the past, resulted in failure to appear warrants. He said, "If you have a ticket and are from Olive Branch, Miss., you are not going to show up for court."

These are very sore topics for campers who opt not to participate in any of this type of activity and pay good money to have a relaxing weekend with their families at campgrounds such as Riverside Park, one of the parks many agree to be extremely family friendly. Roork said these families still use the river but many have to come during the weekdays because it is much quieter.

Others welcome the out-of-towners as their contribution to the local economy is very good during these months, including the fines they pay for their offenses and the fact that they too pay for their campsites and food from local grocery stores and restaurants as well as the gas to take them to and from their destination. One thing is for certain, like it or not, they are here for the fun and beauty experienced by the peaceful river and is a vital part of the local economy in the summer months.

Campgrounds are continually full, especially on holiday weekends including Labor Day, the grand finale of the summer when the TruTV special was taped.

The documentary has been previously viewed by Roork, who said although he has worked for Fulton County for 30 years, this was the first time he has seen what goes on at the river. He commended officers with Arkansas Game and Fish and Fulton County regarding what he called, " a difficult to impossible to control situation due to the shear numbers of people," that was included in the special.

Roork said he understands the owners of these campgrounds depend on occupancy for their livelihood and said they are all very cooperative with them in allowing officers to enforce the law, but said, "Good people's money is just as good as thugs and I believe they can fill these campgrounds with good people just as easy."

While many argue the contributions these visitors make to the local economy is vital, Roork said, "With about 1,500 canoes going out twice a day, all the food, camping, mini marts and restaurants, it is no doubt they contribute to the economy, but one death due to a drunk driver is not worth that money."

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