Drinking on the Dan River is one step closer to being a thing of the past after a 4-0 vote by the Stokes County Board of Commissioners Monday night.
The Board unanimously agreed, with member James Booth not present, to ask state legislators to enact a law banning the possession or consumption of alcohol on the river during the “short session” this spring.
The decision came after a number of speakers related horror stories of what is currently happening, described by one speaker as a “floating fraternity party,” on the river.
“Tubing on the Dan has come to be associated only as drinking,”said Joan Allen who has run the Danbury General Store and Dan River Tubing for 14 years. “They know it is place to get drunk and use drugs with no repercussions. I think the reputation of this river in this area is at stake.”
She said that in recent years she has seen tubers come off of the river who have abused their girlfriends and wives or who have abused their husbands and girlfriends.
“I know of situations where individuals spend their entire trip down the river trying to bring a friend back safely because they have gotten so intoxicated they cannot get down themselves,” she said. “I have known groups that have left a member of their group behind, passed out on the river. There have been situations of children towing grown men back because they are passed out.”
She said excessive litter and alcohol-fueled language and behavior was hurting her business.
“I have had families tell me they would never come back because of everything that goes on up there,” she said. “The river should be a place where we can all go and enjoy ourselves, no matter who you are. We should be able to enjoy the quite and the beauty of the nature around us and not feel threatened. That is not the situation today.”
Several county residents who own property on the river shared their concerns with the board as well.
“Over the past several years we have watched the traffic on the river increase and the amount of drinking has increased,” said Cheryl Schum, whose family owns 20-acres on the river. “Our property has been vandalized. The amount of trash after a weekend is amazing.”
She said her family also had to put up with horrible language from people traveling the river, and noted that she and some of her female friends had felt threatened by some river goers in the past.
Shona Simpson, who had at one time planned on building a dream home on the river with her husband said she had had similar experiences.
“On any given day there will be hundreds of drunken tubers who lay out on our beach on the river,” she said. “They use our beach and our bank for their picnic and as their trash dump. They leave paper and plastic an hundreds of beer cans floating on the river. They leave glass bottles submerged in the sand. They also use our property as a toilet.
“When we have tried to confront them I have felt physically threatened and intimidated by some of these individuals,” she added. “The peace and tranquility is broken from 10 a.m. into the night with loud shouting and cursing. This summer we did not come up to use our land at all. Instead of building our dream home, my husband is thinking of selling the land and moving on.”
Simpson said the problems do not stop when the tubers get out of the river.
“These people can barely get out of their tubes but, when they do, they hop in their cars and drive home on our roads,” she said.
Suzi Morehead, who has property off of Seven Island Road, said the river is being used as a daytime night club.
“They know that once they pass the bridge nobody can touch them,” she said. “You can be 100 feet from the bridge and people are already completely wasted. I have even had to run out in the river and stop monster trucks from driving down the river.
“It is not what we want to show as the best of Stokes,” she added.
The proposed law would make it a Class 3 misdemeanor to possess or consume any alcoholic beverage on the waters of any river in Stokes County or within 50 feet of the banks of any river in Stokes County unless consumed in a licensed venue. The law would not impact landowner’s rights on their own property.
County Manager Rick Morris said the proposed law approved by the commissioners Monday was still a draft that could be adjusted before the state legislature considered it in the spring.
Commissioner Leon Inman said the law was targeted at the bad actors on the river.
“This is not an attack on law abiding citizens,” he said. “Those responsible people have nothing to worry about. This is about those people who are irresponsible and messing it up for everybody else.”
“If folks are causing problems, then there needs to be something in place that our law enforcement folks can use to remedy the situation,” agreed Commissioner Jimmy Walker.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.