McCall city officials would like to see more flags and fireworks this Fourth of July and fewer boobs and booze. After years of what they say was rowdy drunken behavior, with North Beach crowds swelling to as many as 2,000 revelers, the city, Valley County and the state of Idaho will clamp down on public consumption of alcohol and restricting the popular beach to a lot less partying.
"We heard from too many McCall residents who said, 'We don't want to walk downtown, so we're going to leave.' We live in a beautiful, wonderful place where too many people wanted to leave because they didn't feel safe," said Erin Greaves, city of McCall communications manager. "We needed to protect the health and safety of our community."
To do that, McCall will ban public consumption of alcohol in or around Payette Lake's shorelines—the only place to drink will be at a city-sponsored beer garden in McCall's Depot Park about two blocks from the beach, or in one of the town's restaurants or pubs.
"We want you to come to McCall, but we want you to honor McCall," said Greaves. "We want you to know that the Fourth of July is so much more than what it was in the past."
What it was in the past was a "powder keg waiting to happen," according to Lieutenant Dan Smith, a 19-year veteran of the Valley County Sheriff's Office. In particular, Smith pointed to North Beach, where booze-soaked revelry had gotten out of hand.
"In 2008, we had partiers actually throwing beer bottles at sheriff's deputies out on patrol boats," said Smith. "Over the years, we had several sexual contact [issues] with guys groping girls, and we even had a rape in the woods. We saw vehicle burglaries and major medical situations where people ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning."
Smith said it came to a head in 2015 when McCall was packed with tipsy, scantily-clad teenagers.
"Businesses told us they were losing money because the locals wouldn't come into town to buy anything; and some of those business owners said they would start shutting down on the Fourth of July unless something changed," said Smith.
The new rules will include a parking ban on the roads leading to North Beach, a maximum capacity of 750 people and an alcohol ban on the beach. A first-time offender will be cited and a second-time offender will be arrested and charged with trespassing, said Smith.
Tom Grote, publisher and editor of the McCall Star-News, recalls July 4, 2015 well.
"My family and I walked through Legacy Park, the big park in the middle of town where you can watch the fireworks, and the park was full of young adults having a great time: Hacky Sack, a lot of beer and, yes, a lot of girls in bikinis. That's what they wear in the summer, you know. And the young people were using some language that your mom and dad might not use," said Grote.
"No one bothered us, but we decided that's not where we wanted to watch the fireworks," he added. "We walked a little further down to Brown Park and sat down with a lot people just like us. We opened up a bottle of wine and had a wonderful evening. Everybody had their place. This year, I can't do that."
That, Grote says, is the tipping point of McCall's dramatic shift away from alcohol this Fourth of July holiday.
"That's the debate: Whose rights are you infringing upon by doing this? Are you enhancing the right for citizens to have peace and tranquility in their town by banning alcohol? Or are you infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens who had an equal right to a good time in their own way?"
As for the city of McCall and law enforcement insisting some local businesses were threatening to close if something didn't change, Grote said he has heard nothing of the sort.
"That was anecdotal," he said. "I didn't hear that from anyone. Are those businesses saying they were overwhelmed by the wrong kind of people? Isn't the money the same from a 25-year-old versus a 65-year-old?"
Greaves, however, said the city of McCall did hear from more than 20 business owners who wanted some kind of change. The businesses were then invited to meet with local, county and state officials to craft what she called a "community response."
"It's going to be so much better. We're calling it the 'Lakeside Liberty Fest,'" said Greaves. "It will be right in the middle of the main park on the shores of Payette Lake [with] face painting, a bouncy house, water slides, a shade tent and booths from more than 30 nonprofits and local businesses [as well as] plenty of live music and, of course, the best fireworks show in the state reflecting over Payette Lake. We're creating a brand new Fourth of July for McCall."
Greaves said the city has begun a full-bore media blitz to let visitors—particularly those from the Treasure Valley—know about the changes, but Grote thinks most people heading to McCall for the holiday won't have any clue.
"Yes, the city may buy ads in your paper and mine but I think, by and large, a lot of people are going to think it's business as usual and that's where the conflict will come," Grote said. "They're going to head to the beach, crack open a beer and someone is going to tap them on the shoulder and say, 'You can't do that.'"
To enforce the new rules, the city has created a team of 15 "ambassadors" who will be assigned to spot trouble over the Fourth of July weekend.
"Simple, wholesome, good-time, small-town fun; that's what we're going to be about," Greaves told the volunteers, according to the Star-News. "It's not to keep people away. It's to bring the right customers in."
Grote said he's skeptical about the specter of "untrained volunteers observing criminal activity and reporting to law enforcement," and he even likens the tight restrictions at North Beach to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"They're going to put buoys around the beach so that no boats will be able to come in there," said Grote. "It reminds me of the Missile Crisis when we put submarines out, hoping that Russian cruisers would turn away. Remember that quarantine line? This is literally our quarantine line ... this time around North Beach."
Anyone who thinks they can get a sip of the brew before Independence Day partying kicks into high gear should know McCall booze-on-the-beach restrictions stretch through the holiday weekend.
"They'll be in effect from Friday, July 1 through Tuesday, July 5," said Greaves. "But this is a brand new way to celebrate."