'I am beyond concerned': Russian River braces for Labor Day crowds, county asks visitors to come another time

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Russian River locals 'beyond concerned' over Labor Day crowds
EMBED <>More Videos

In Sonoma County, they're expecting challenges with crowd control this Labor Day weekend, especially along the Russian River.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In Sonoma County, they're expecting challenges this Labor Day weekend, especially along the Russian River.

The smoke has just begun to clear from the fires, and now the crowds are coming.

RELATED: Labor Day: Which Bay Area beaches are open and closed?

Lance Waterhouse spent this morning enjoying a few last hours of solitude along an empty beach.

He know it won't be that way this Labor Day weekend.

"It was absolutely nuts. Really."

Lance was remembering Memorial Day weekend earlier this year, and pretty much every weekend since, with overflowing crowds splashing in the water, and COVID-19 tucked away deep in the recesses of their minds.

WATCH: Bay Area celebrates Memorial Day weekend despite COVID-19 pandemic

It's a hot Memorial Day weekend... are Bay Area residents following social distancing rules? Amy Hollyfield is in the East Bay.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman took one look that day, and gave up trying to contain his frustration.

"Look around. Social distancing is going out the door!"

"Are you concerned?" we asked.

"I am beyond concerned."

When we caught up with Baxman today, he amplified those sentiments. "We're concerned that outsiders coming in could bring something or spread it around."

Labor Day weekend, this year, arrives just as the region recovers from the Walbridge Fire and evacuations that pretty much emptied Guerneville. Now, residents return as the world drives in to join them.

RELATED: Stinson Beach open Labor Day weekend amid COVID-19 pandemic

It is a classic case of best times and bad situations. Locals know what's coming this weekend. But are they ready? The County has asked visitors to stay away.

"The moral imperative, here, is making sure people stay safe," said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who worries about crowds and already overworked first responders.

The reviews have been mixed among local business people.

"Politically, that was reasonable. Business-wise, not too much, I think," said Jeff Bridges, whose R3 Hotel sold out this weekend. Bridges and others note that summer is peak season. It's the time to recharge bank accounts following two years of floods, fires, evacuations and now Covid-19.

They need the money but not the bad behavior. So here comes the big weekend.

"I don't want them to go away because the economy thrives on it," said Bridges. "What I do want to see is decency and understanding."

"Is this a blessing or a curse?" we asked.

"Both. It's both."

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here