THREE FORKS (AP)
People who drink heavily, make noise and litter when they take float trips on the Jefferson River have angered some area residents, who say the revelry amounts to a wild party scene. Hundreds of teenagers and young adults jump off cliffs and bridges southwest of Three Forks. Critics say debris after the weekend recreation includes beer cans, drug syringes and other trash on private land and in the river. Law enforcement officials say they have responded to complaints about underage drinking, trespassing, littering, assault, traffic violations and drug use, but enforcement is limited because floaters vastly outnumber the authorities. "This thing is out of control," said Greg Strohecker, general manager of KG Ranch. "There's no respect for law enforcement. There's no respect for land. You feel helpless. It's just turned into a party." Having been faced with the problem for a succession of summers, representatives of law enforcement and state agencies met this month to discuss options. Tackling the problems will "take little bits of everyone's authority to make this work," said Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell said officials are working on "an action plan." Efforts may include asking Jefferson County and Gallatin County commissioners to consider adopting ordinances to restrict bridge jumping and the number of people who may gather at fishing access sites. Zach Wenderott and Lewis Haddock of Bozeman were jumping off the Williams Bridge on Friday, and said they found it an enjoyable and inexpensive way to stay cool. "It's about all you can do when it's hot," Haddock said. Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson said partying over the Fourth of July drew up to 1,000 people and 600 cars to a stretch of the Jefferson River. Nelson said floaters' vehicles parked along U.S. 287 near Sappington Bridge partially blocked the highway, disrupted traffic and created dangerous conditions. During a two-week span this month, he said, several cliff jumpers were injured. Strohecker said the disruption has become so serious _ "on an average weekend, we have 1,800 cars going by here a day" _ that he does not like to be home at night. He said he has seen vehicles crash into KG Ranch fencing. Drivers break through gates to cross private land, he added. Lannette Frye also lives nearby and said she will not take her children, ages 11, 9 and 6, to the river. "It's not an environment you want your kids around," she said. "It's not the ranching community I grew up in." Jefferson County Sheriff Craig Doolittle said his deputies patrol the river area regularly. "I know we constantly run into manpower shortages," he said, "and that's always one of the problems when all those people congregate there. You just don't send one guy into a situation like that." Kyle Wing of Three Forks floated the Jefferson recently and said that although he saw litter and it is "not called for," most revelers behave well. A weekend can draw 200 or 300 people, he said.