The recent article about the cooler ban on the Broad River (Sept. 13) highlighted two very different perspectives: the riverside landowners’ desires versus the the public’s need to use outfitters to access the state-owned river. The river is a public space but with no legal public access.
To start with, I became the first outfitter on the Broad River in 1984. I have spent much of my free time over the years helping to protect this river from abuse, bad development and pollution. I am one of the founding members of the Broad River Watershed Association. My staff has been educating the public about protecting the river and doing river cleanups for 30-plus years. From the beginning, we have banned glass containers, paper products, cotton towels and other items that we know to be dangerous or would end up in the river as trash. We require glasses to be secured using croakies or the free string we supply.
The article starts out highlighting the beer-drinking public as if they are the majority of the people floating the river. It thereby ignores the needs of local citizens visiting the river, with or without beer, and of those who drink responsibly. Coolers are much more than just something to keep beer cold in. Almost everyone wants/needs to have a cooler on the river to store liquids, food items, to secure personal items such as sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, etc., and to store their refuse securely.
We all know that littering happens on the highways, schools and certainly on the river from stone sober people, and it tends to get more frequent with alcohol abuse. Same with trespassing. We know that there’s a litter issue, and that the outfitters and landowners have to
make measured and reasonable efforts to educate the public and to enforce litter laws. Reducing the maximum size of coolers will help reduce the litter without deterring the public from wanting to visit this state-owned gem of a river.
The article did not mention that families, church and scout groups, birthday parties, etc. come year after year to the Broad River and behave responsibly. They deserve to be treated with the same respect the property owners expect. The river does not belong to the adjacent landowners. We all wish there’d be less litter, but cannot change the behavior of the litter bugs. Lack of enforcement is a big issue. Signage concerning littering (like along the highway) and smaller cooler sizes would be a good start.
The cooler ban ordinance is not, as Scotty Edwards tries to call it, just the tiniest, itty bitty, little mundane ordinance. It’s a big, big deal that will shut down the outfitters, thus stopping the public from having access to their river.
There were nearly 30,000 people reached via reposting by the Broad River Outpost Facebook page telling the public that Madison County doesn’t want their business because of the cooler ban. Their replies overwhelmingly oppose the cooler ban.
There are also many private boaters that have almost no interaction with staff at the BRO whom we let use our river landings for free. These boaters are both locals and regular boaters, who enjoy paddling here as well as on other rivers. Tom Krobot mentions maybe a case of bottles a month found on his half-mile river frontage, but there’s no way of knowing if it's from the private boaters, who are exempt from this rule.
Edwards also makes a wild claim that we have fences to keep people out while the folks on the river don’t. We have no fences along the river and allow free access to our boat landings to the public during business hours and days when we’re open. Many of these landowners have fences or gates separating themselves from their county or state road, as do we.
Riverside landowners remove native vegetation, including azaleas, bottle brush, dog hobble, rhododendron, etc. along the river's wildlife corridor, and some of these same landowners even plant grass along the banks. They are not taking care of nature and the wilderness. There are other issues, such as chemical runoff from lawns, septic tanks, cows watering [and pooping] in the river, etc., that have caused some parts of the river to be listed as polluted.
Lastly, the article states that I intend to challenge the legality of the ordinance, when I clearly stated I wanted to work with commissioners and landowners to come up with a compromise, so I didn’t have to litigate. Madison County, the outfitters and river users will be the losers. The only winners will be the lawyers, if we can’t find a solution acceptable to most of us.
If this ordinance stands as is, safe public access will be reduced dramatically, and in turn tourism and use of this amazing recreational resource.