South Fork residents, tubers get along after increased Whatcom sheriff’s patrols

People tube and float down the south fork of the Nooksack River between Acme and Van Zandt on Saturday, July 6, 2013 in Acme.
People tube and float down the south fork of the Nooksack River between Acme and Van Zandt on Saturday, July 6, 2013 in Acme. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Extra sheriff’s patrols in the South Fork Valley made this summer’s tubing season much tamer and more bearable for the locals, according to valley residents.

“Things have improved greatly,” said Lynne Wheeler, a lifetime valley resident who had asked the Whatcom County Council in June 2013 for a moratorium on tubing on the south fork Nooksack River until garbage cans, bathrooms and beefed-up law enforcement were brought in.

Acme residents lined up to speak to the council last year about a summertime tradition that had gotten out of control. Tubers were picking fights with property owners, urinating and defecating on people’s properties, and exposing themselves, residents said.

The council agreed to spend $30,000 in 2014 on overtime for deputies but provided no portable restrooms or trash cans. Apparently, the extra patrols were enough to address residents’ concerns about unruly behavior, trespassing and drunken driving.

“The tubers expressed concern about the presence of the deputies, but as a local that’s the only thing that’s changed, and as a result we’ve seen a change in the tubers’ behavior,” Wheeler said.

“Tubers were much more, I would say ‘respectful,’” she added. “There was much less garbage on the riverbanks and on the roadside.”

As of last week, deputies had put in 280 extra hours in the valley this summer, with one more weekend of added patrols planned for Sept. 6-7.

“Deputies were very busy,” Sheriff Bill Elfo said Friday, Sept. 5, in an email to The Bellingham Herald. “There was a huge amount of positive feedback given to the deputies by local residents who had been plagued by public safety and order issues.”

Deputies wrote 125 citations from July 14 to Labor Day, Sept. 1. Of those, 48 were parking tickets; 26 were for collisions and other traffic violations; and 25 were for open containers, underage drinking and other alcohol violations. DUIs were handed off to the Washington State Patrol; deputies contacted three drivers suspected of driving under the influence, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

Parking and alcohol infractions were down compared to last year, when the extra Acme Valley deputies issued 61 alcohol-related citations and 75 parking tickets.

From Everybody’s Store owner Jeff Margolis’ vantage on Potter Road, tubers were better behaved. Margolis has spoken on behalf of tubers to the County Council.

“Things went better than ever this year, and the reason for it was the county’s acceptance that the South Fork is a seasonal aquatic resource,” said Margolis, who is on the county Parks Commission.

“The ‘park legally’ signs, coupled with our public information about permitted (parking) areas around Van Zandt, plus strict enforcement led to fewer hassles and fewer calls for tow trucks,” Margolis said.

As of Friday, Sept. 5, the final cost of the added patrols this year wasn’t known, Elfo said. He expected the program would be within its $30,000 budget.