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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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