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Floater fix: Fall City task force looks at ways for rafters to be better neighbors

Floating the cool waters of the Snoqualmie on a hot summer day used to be an annual tradition for Carrie Laumb. But last year, Laumb decided that the excursion from the Falls to Fall City wasn't for her anymore.

"There were just too many people, too much drama," the eight-year Fall City resident said.

At her job at the Fall City Roadhouse, she witnessed the crowds of summertime floaters searching for parking spaces on the already-crowded downtown strip, where most rafters emerge from the river. Some floaters bring in business, but lots just want to use the bathroom to change, and others get mad when they can't use the Roadhouse parking lot.

"I call it mini-Cancun," Laumb said.  "Last year was the worst I've ever seen it."

"Our river is so beautiful," yet the garbage Laumb finds in the river is "unbelievable...I'd find whole six-packs" of beer, unopened. She worries about the liquor falling into minors' hands, and hates to see what the place becomes on busy weekends.

"It's just horrible," she said.

The Youtube video "Snoqualmie River Floating" shows it all, the good and the bad: the rows of summer rafters, relaxing in the sun, the parked cars, the piles of garbage.

Social media helped turn the Valley into a mecca for floaters during hot weekends in 2010. The impact of floating's bad side—sewage, trash and lack of parking—was enough to prompt a group of Lower Valley residents to form the Fall City River Float Task Force, looking for ways to make rafters better visitors.

The bends of the Snoqualmie below the Falls have seen explosive growth in the number of rafters in the last two years.

From the Snoqualmie Falls power house to the Highway 202 bridge in Fall City, "That river is just covered with kids in the summer," said Wade Holden, president of Friends of the Trail, a King County-affiliated public clean-up group.

"There's no question that the word is out," said Lee Moderow, Task Force founder and president of the Fall City Metro Parks District. "With the advent of YouTube and social media, it has exploded... It's free, it's available."

Meeting since January, the Task Force is looking at solutions to the impacts on sewage, parking and trash, and is seeking funding and volunteers while reaching out to organizations as diverse as the King County Sheriff, the Partnership for Rural King County and the local Boy Scouts.

"I think this is going to be a thousand little pieces," Moderow said. "Everybody recognized that it doesn't belong to one entity." The parks district is involved, she said, because "this is exactly why people elected to have a parks department. This is immediate and tangible."

The Snoqualmie River is a centerpiece for Fall City and the county, Moderow said.

"This is an opportunity to bring the community together on something that's important to us all: the health and beauty of our river," she added

Among ideas to eliminate river trash is a project involving Holden's Friends of the Trail and local Scouts. Holden is collaborating on the design of garbage containers to be built by teens and placed at put-in and tie-up spots along the river. Holden's organization will then collect the refuse.

Part of the problem with littering, Holden said, is that underage drinkers on the water will sooner dump their beer cans, empty or full, than risk a citation at the take-out site. By providing anonymous containers along the route, Holden said, the task force might help change trashy behavior.

"If you don't make it easy for people, they're not going to do the right thing," he said.

Holden also advocates having volunteers patrol popular tie-up sites to stress less littering.

"You need people leaning on them."

Working with the Task Force, King County's Water and Land Resources Division is making a video instructing rafters on how to float the Snoqualmie in a safer, more neighborly manner.

Grace Reamer, a staffer for King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, said the video should be out by the summer season, which begins in June. Plans call for the video to hit King County's television station as well as the same kinds of social media that made Fall City a floater hot spot in the first place.

"We want to get the information out," Moderow said. "We're going to service nobody by a closed door approach. We want them to be safe and we want them to play by the rules."

The process of making the video helped the Task Force coalesce. Now, it's envisioning new approaches to making the river a better place on hot summer weekends.

"That it isn't going to be perfect this year," Moderow said. "This is a starting point."

• The Fall City River Float Task Force next meets Monday, May 9. To learn more, visit http://www.fallcityparks.org/

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