Letter to the Editor:
Well WSU students finally did it…..got the dunes closed until further notice.
My husband has been going to the dunes for 35 years and he introduced me to the dunes on one of our first dates. It is one of our favorite places to visit on a summer afternoon because it’s close, and we love sharing this special place with our family and friends. My husband and I were camping at Boyer this past weekend and we invited some friends who have been long-time residents of Pullman but had never been to “The Dunes” to come join on Saturday for an afternoon there. But we have never experienced the party that was at the dunes on Saturday, August 25th, 2012.
We left for the Dunes with our friends and our daughter and her boyfriend shortly after noon and we sat in an incredibly long line of cars while waiting our turn to get through the security checkpoint at the dam. As we waited, watched kids run up and down the line of cars greeting each other and having a great time. It seemed the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers was prepared for the large crowd, since they had three security guards checking cars through the checkpoint three at a time when normally there is only one. It was embarrassing to watch many of these kids throw the empty cans and bottles of beer they had just consumed over the railing at the side of the road. We watched as one group filled half empty 2 liter bottles of coke with hard alcohol; and, of course, the empty fifths went over the rail as well. Our friends were speechless.
When we were still a mile away from the first dunes parking lot, the road became almost impassable from the cars parked on both sides of the road and the crowds of kids walking down the middle of the road making their way to the first of the trails down to the beach at the first overflowing parking lot. We noticed that many of the kids did not even carry water with them for such a hot afternoon. We persevered through the crowds and made our way to the second of the dunes parking lots. We noticed that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had attempted to prepare for the large amounts of anticipated trash, because each of the parking lots had a large dumpster waiting. All the kids had to do was pack their trash back to the dumpster when they left.
We walked down a back path and as we crested the top of the dune, we all momentarily just stopped and stared at the scene below. There were hundreds of people filling up the shallow water, which stretches out several hundred feet to the deeper river where anchored boats were lined up, and there was a steady stream of people that just kept coming from the paths over the dunes. At the time we estimated there to be around 2000 kids down below us in the water and crowded on the beach. We were told later by one of the dam security personnel that over a 1000 cars were counted crossing the dam, and they estimated that the count at the party was around 3500 people, almost 3 times the usual back to school crowd for August.
At one point, my husband and I went for a walk through the crowds, where there were countless tables of beer pong going full board, a table of hard liquor where drinks were being mixed, and several varieties of Frisbee tag involving poles and beer bottles or cans. A DJ set up portable equipment on the beach and began broadcasting his show, and suddenly there was a press of bodies, of half-clad students grinding away to the music. We stopped and joked with two U.S. Army Corp of Engineer rangers that we would not like to have the job of cleaning up after this crowd, when one of them said, “There’s no cleaning this up”; and pointed to the river. That’s when we noticed that there was a large number of red plastic drinking cups and empty cans and bottles getting caught up in the current and beginning to float downstream.
My friends lasted only an hour and half before being overwhelmed left to go home. Funny, but they still considered it a great adventure and thanked us for sharing it with them, even though we told them we had never seen anything like it. My husband and I and our daughter and her boyfriend stayed for another hour and a half before the crowds finally got to us.
However, on our way out the back path to the lower parking lot, we ran across a young girl passed out, laying half in the bushes and half on the path. She had nothing with her, not even shoes, only the swim suit she was wearing and towel. There was no one with her either. She was unresponsive, and we knew we couldn’t just leave her there. My husband left to try to find the two U.S. Army Corp of Engineer rangers to report this girl. By this time the crowd was so thick that my husband felt the quickest way to find them was to have the DJ, Goldfinger, make an announcement asking the rangers to come to the DJ booth. But, this self-centered dj got angry with my husband for trying to talk to him while he was doing his show and chewed him out. When the message finally got through to this dj’s small-minded brain, he announced, “Yo Rangers, there’s a girl passed out on the back path.” Not exactly the low-keyed announcement my husband was hoping for to get the rangers to come to the booth. However, the rangers began making their way to the the dj stand and my husband intercepted them and brought them to where I was sitting with the passed-out student. This was about 3:30 in the afternoon. We had to wait almost 30 minutes for an ambulance to be called in from Pomeroy. It took almost that long for the rangers to locate some people who came with the girl. It still amazes me that these students didn’t try to find their friend; that she was just left all alone like that.
When the girl was finally in good hands with the EMTs, we were able to leave. We were amazed to see three large Greyhound-like couches also parked along the side of the road as we made our way out through the cars and crowds of now very drunk kids starting to leave the party. It was good that my daughter’s new car has excellent brakes, because as one very drunk girl walked along the side of the road, she suddenly lurched sideways right into our path. It was a little scary.
Around 5:00 p.m. after we got back to Boyer, we noticed a plume of smoke rising into the air near the dam, where cars there were still a long line of cars waiting to get across the dam. The whole hillside on the far side of river by the dam was burning. We heard later from some of the responders that someone was seen shooting off fireworks alongside the line-up of cars. We watched the fire burn most of the night before turning in, and the hills were still on fire at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning.
We found out that a car-load of students was involved in a head-on collision on the grade leading out of the canyon that evening. We also heard the trash that was left behind when the party was over, was enormous, and that beach and the shallows was littered with broken glass as well.
The Army Corp of Engineers have decided for the safety of would be users of this stretch of beach to close this wonderful place indefinitely, at least until the glass on the beach and in the water can be cleaned up and a plan can be put in place to handle large crowds like this.
Barb and Guy Schmidlein