Public Safety

Memorial Day: Before you crack a beer, know the rules at popular recreation areas

Laws can change in a matter of feet

Iowa Department of Natural Resources seasonal water patrol officer Eli Joslyn tries to hale a boater to conduct a water stop while patrolling Coralville Lake in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday, May 27, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Department of Natural Resources seasonal water patrol officer Eli Joslyn tries to hale a boater to conduct a water stop while patrolling Coralville Lake in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday, May 27, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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With Memorial Day weekend comes an influx of campers, boaters and visitors to Johnson County’s Lake Macbride and Coralville Lake.

But if you’re heading out and plan to imbibe, you might want to check the alcohol rules before cracking open a cold one.

Because a number of different agencies — including county, state and federal — have jurisdiction over different areas of these popular hang-outs, the rules pertaining to alcohol can literally change by walking a few feet from one place to another.

For example, it’s OK to drink a beer in the day-use area of Sandy Beach at Coralville Lake, but you can’t do so on the beach itself. You can drink wine with less than a 17-percent alcohol content at the Lake Macbride campgrounds, but only beer is allowed on the beaches. And if you’re recreating at West Overlook at Coralville Lake, you are not allowed to drink on land no matter where you are.

Nick Rocca, Lake Macbride park ranger with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says officers plan to be on the lookout for offenders, especially over Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re going to be out in full force this weekend,” said Rocca. “It just helps things move smoothly and helps make sure everybody is safe and also following all the rules of the park.”

 

CORALVILLE LAKE

The Army Corps of Engineers owns the nearly 25,000 acres of land and water that makes up Coralville Lake and its surrounding public use areas.

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Dee Goldman, Coralville Lake’s operations manager, said the Corps is not an enforcement agency, but officials can ask unruly guests to pour out their alcohol or leave and issue trespassing citations if necessary.

In almost all other situations, the Corps defers to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to enforce laws. The federal entity contracts with the county office for a regular presence in the area.

“If the Corps of Engineers gets a complaint of alcohol on the beach, we would assist them and explain to the people that they need to remove the alcohol or leave,” Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said.

The sheriff’s office also deploys a patrol boat for added coverage on the water during busy weekends.

Alcohol has been banned on the lake’s three main beaches — West Overlook, Sandy Beach and Sugar Bottom — since 2004, Goldman said. Three years ago, the Corps faced growing concerns of large, drunken parties at West Overlook’s day-use area and banned alcohol beyond the beaches to include the entire West Overlook area.

“It was truly a line in the sand,” Goldman said of the alcohol-free zone. “We started to see a lot more problems growing with larger groups of people that would be off the sand, but yet still consuming alcohol. The line is no longer the sand, but the entire area.”

Alcohol still is allowed off the sand — in the nearby campgrounds, lodges and parks — at Sugar Bottom and Sandy Beach.

 

LAKE MACBRIDE

Just to the east of Coralville Lake is Lake Macbride. Rules at the surrounding state park are enforced by park rangers and conservation officers with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

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Hard alcohol is prohibited in all Iowa state parks and only beer is allowed on Lake Macbride’s beaches. Beer and wine — no more than 17 percent alcohol — is allowed in the park’s campgrounds, shelters and lodges.

Todd Coffelt, Iowa State Parks Bureau Chief, said a recent collection of public input and citation data found “a myriad of concerns” of issues — particularly concerning alcohol use — on a handful of state beaches, including Lake Macbride.

“We have a couple areas that have a proclivity for abnormal behavior or unsafe behavior,” he said.

Coffelt said state committees now are discussing the possibility of banning all alcohol on those beaches. The process of reaching a final decision on the matter could take several months, he added.

“There’s a whole host of steps that have to take place,” he said. “It could take the better part of 180 days to get that done.”

 

ON THE WATER

All rules pertaining to alcohol consumption on water are defined by state law. Operating a boat while over the legal limit — .08 blood alcohol content — can result in a serious misdemeanor boating while intoxicated charge.

Erika Billerbeck, law enforcement officer with Iowa DNR, said it has been a challenge in recent years to change the mentality on boating and alcohol, but persistence is paying off.

“People just assume that drinking goes with boating, so it’s more accepted to do it,” she said. “We’ve really hit it hard for the past probably five or six years. I think people are starting to get the message finally.”

SAFETY FIRST

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Goldman said rules may differ, but the main focus on safety — particularly when mixing alcohol and water — is uniform across all jurisdictions.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites alcohol among the factors that increase drowning risk. From 2005 to 2014, an average of 10 people died each day in non-boat related unintentional drownings, an average of more than 3,500 per year.

An added 332 people died each year from boat-related drownings.

Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation and about one in every five reported boating deaths, according to the center.

“A lot of our water safety revolves around, ‘Don’t drink and boat and don’t drink and swim,’” he said. “I think the biggest issue is, we want to make these family friendly places. You can have family friendly activities without alcohol.”

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