Float down the Edisto River this summer and, once again, you're not likely to be alone.
Colleton County sheriff's deputies brought out their contingent of boats, a plane and other vehicles Tuesday just to make the point — before the Memorial Day weekend.
The Sheriff's Office will continue the stepped-up enforcement of the past few years along the popular tubing river, working with Dorchester County sheriff's deputies, state wildlife officers and others.
They will be watching for underage drinking, drunk and disorderly conduct, property damage, indecent exposure and other problems. And they will be looking to save lives; in 2011, a 20-year-old woman drowned during a float.
This year, “the water is higher and the current swifter, so floaters are going to be caught up in the (overhanging) tree limbs like they haven't in previous years,” said Colleton County Capt. Ted Stanfield.
“A lot of the people floating the river aren't local residents, and they don't know how dangerous that river can be,” said Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight. Drinking, including by those who are underage, compounds the problems, he said.
“You get to playing with fire on that river. We just want it to be a fun thing. Come on down, be safe and leave the alcohol at home,” Knight said.
Floating the black-willow and sandbar-lined river between Dorchester and Colleton counties is a rural Lowcountry summer tradition. But the river has swift narrows and bends, overhanging trees and “strainers,” submerged or partly submerged trees.
And anymore, the pastime has become a party that has gotten out of hand. In recent years, social media networking has drawn thousands of people at a time to launch inner tubes, rubber rafts and air mattresses in loud revelries like spring break sprees. Women flash their breasts. Floaters trespass ashore, litter and urinate.
“The language, the fighting, indecent exposure, vandalism,” Stanfield ticks down the list.
In response to river resident complaints, law enforcement officers stepped up patrols and DUI roadside checkpoints. They monitor networking sites to head off trouble gatherings. The air patrols give them an extra eye, surveying just how crowded a spot on the relatively remote river might be at any given time.
“This isn't just a wilderness ride. There are people who live along the river, people who take their families along for the day,” Stanfield said.
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