MCCALL - A year after community leaders made a huge change in the way McCall celebrates Independence Day, they are still standing by their decision.
City and state officials banned alcohol in beachfront parks after years of outrageous and dangerous holiday shenanigans.
One year later, those leaders say for the most part it was a positive move, and one that was beneficial for the town as a whole. But they say a common misconception many had last year was that alcohol was off limits entirely in the whole city - and that's just not the case. So this time around, they want to make their message clear.
"People were not respecting our town and last year they respected it," McCall Mayor Jackie Aymon told KTVB. "People's behavior was better and everybody had a good time."
Trash, illegal activities, violence and excessive drunkenness are all negative baggage community leaders wanted to rid the town of on Independence Day. So last year, in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, they laid down the law; they made alcohol off limits on the popular party spot North Beach- a unit of Ponderosa State Park- and in all city parks from July 1 through July 5.
(CLARIFICATION 6/29/17: Idaho State Parks and Recreation spokesperson says the alcohol restriction does not apply to the main portions of Ponderosa State Park on the peninsula; As far as State Parks is concerned, the alcohol ban applies to the North Beach Unit of Ponderosa State Park only.)
"It was the first time around and we weren't sure we could change a culture on a dime and we changed a culture on a dime," Mayor Aymon said.
However, the mayor and other locals KTVB spoke with say that change did leave many bars and restaurants in the dust as out-of-towners were under the false impression alcohol wasn't allowed anywhere in the mountain town.
"Some of the businesses that serve alcohol- and I think that was because of people thinking that they didn't serve it at all- for those businesses, I think they suffered. Some of them had their worst Fourth of July on record," Mile High Marina co-owner Robin Gerblick said.
"I think that did have a negative impact on the outcome and people coming up to enjoy themselves," Mayor Aymon added. "So that was a disappointment."
But overall, city leaders say the enforcement was a healthy, safe decision. Mayor Aymon says last summer when the restrictions went into effect, local law enforcement agencies weren't stretched so thin, the hospital and emergency room weren't as busy and there were no calls to the fire department about illegal fireworks or campfires.
"The parks were full of kids and families and joy and happiness, visitors and locals. For so many years locals stayed home," Aymon added.
Gerblick tells KTVB the atmosphere around town on the Fourth of July and the days surrounding the holiday was "back to how it should be".
"The crowd was different, it wasn't all the spring-breakers, if you want to use a generic term. But it was more just family, kind of like how it used to be," Gerblick said.
"Alcohol was a fuel that sparked the fire and caused all the bad behavior. So if you make changes and people behave better, enforcement is really not an issue," the mayor told KTVB.
Some tweaks are being made this year: if you're over 21, of course, you are allowed to drink alcohol at non-lakefront city parks. And after negative feedback, officials are loosening last year's boating restrictions on North Beach.
"We wanted to avoid drunken teenagers on the beach in boats because that's not a safe thing to do. And so they had a 300-foot buoy line to keep the boats from going up on the beach," Mayor Aymon said. "It wasn't closed, it's just you couldn't drive your boat up on the beach."
This Independence Day weekend, they are opening a 150-foot section to motorized watercraft. According to city officials, "North Beach boater access will start where the North Fork of the Payette River flows into Payette Lake and extend 150 feet east. Valley County will also move the buoy line 100 feet closer to shore in line with standard no-wake zones on Payette Lake".
North Beach is also a popular spot for swimming, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding with hiking and biking access close by.
"So this year half the beach is going to be a swimming area, half the beach is going to be a boating area," Mayor Aymon said.
"We want people to come up we want them to enjoy themselves but we are a family town we're not a party town necessarily," Gerblick said. "We are just looking forward to a great, safe Fourth of July, celebrate America."
According to the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce, some Valley County merchants suspect the alcohol restrictions had a negative impact on business last year. But Chamber board president Jay Masterson said in a statement, "It's difficult to tell if misconceptions about the alcohol restrictions had an impact on holiday traffic here, because last year the Fourth of July fell on a Monday. Moreover, the numbers say otherwise. Last July was McCall's best on record in terms of the City of McCall's local option tax collections and Valley County lodging tax receipts."
Meantime, the city and McCall Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau are hosting "10 Days of Fourth of July Fun"! They published a guide highlighting events and festivities for all ages that begin June 30 and last through July 9. To view the events online, head to VisitMcCall.org. You can also pick up an event guide packet at multiple locations in Valley County.