Student weekend at Shasta a disaster for the lakeshore.
University of Oregon students got a viral black eye Monday when photographs on social media revealed huge piles of trash - with much "O"-branded paraphernalia included - strewn across Slaughterhouse Island on Lake Shasta in Northern California.
It's unknown whether UO students real ly are to blame for the weekend's trash heap. But for at least 20 years, UO students have celebrated a spring rite they call "Shasta weekend," and they generally avoid picking up the party rubble afterward, Sgt. Rob Sandbloom of the Shasta County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
Photos posted Monday on Facebook by a California woman showed - amongst the trash - an abandoned UO tote bag, flip-flops with the "O" logo and a Lambda Chi Alpha cooler. More than 20,000 users shared the post as of early Monday evening.
The sight was "absolutely disgraceful," Robin Holmes, UO vice president for student life, said Monday. "It's not activities or behaviors we would ever accept in any way."
The university is investigating the situation and talking with the landowner, which is the federal government. The island is located within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
"We're doing everything we can to follow up on whatever information we've been given," Holmes said.
May long has been the month for drunken or drug-addled recreation on houseboats on Shasta Lake.
Traditionally, Oregon State University students visit the lake on Mother's Day weekend, and UO and University of California, Davis, students take to the lake on Memorial Day weekend, Sandbloom said. Last weekend preceded Memorial Day by a week.
UO students anticipate the excursion for months, going to the Student Rec Center on campus to "Shasta-cize" in order to look their best in a swimsuit, according to the Daily Emerald student newspaper.
Shasta resorts rent as many as 200 houseboats to the student revelers.
Sandbloom said students circumvent the houseboat capacity by picking up additional students at the public boat launch before proceeding to Slaughterhouse Island, where partying can rage day and night for days.
"They'll have 10 kegs in the back of a U-Haul," he said. "They'll have cases upon cases of beer and side-handled bottles of alcohol."
"When they're out in the water and moving around, they don't have a care in the world," Sandbloom said. "They're not paying attention to any laws - whether they know them or don't know them."
Young females and males alike will act in unrestrained ways, Sandbloom said.
"The girls are scantily dressed, sometimes. They'll pop their tops here or there," he said. "Guys are notorious for walking to the back of the houseboat and urinating in front of everybody."
Students often spend the days leaping off the tops of the houseboats, swimming, eating and drinking. And at night, they will light a bonfire on Slaughterhouse Island.
For the most part, sheriff's deputies observe the goings-on from their 22-foot-long platform boats.
"We really don't go on the island; it's for officer safety," Sandbloom said. "There are just so many kids on the island they could overpower us."
Sandbloom estimates there's an average of 25 students per houseboat, and 100 to 200 houseboats tie up on Slaughterhouse Island on the busiest days. That translates to 2,500 to 5,000 students.
Sandbloom said the local sheriff's office calls on multiple law enforcement and other agencies to assist during the marathon weekends. Shasta County emergency services prepare as if it were a natural disaster, with detailed plans and briefings, he said.
Officials know they're likely to see alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses, falls from houseboats and the island's rocky shore, fights and, some years, drownings.
"I've seen people in front of my eyes fall off the top of a houseboat, hit their head and go in the water," Sandbloom said.
Frivolity can be fatal
Some years, college students die.
In 2001, OSU Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity member Sean Matsuda, 19, drowned when he slipped and fell from a houseboat.
In early May 2005, OSU Delta Gamma member Gina Zalunardo, 22, argued with her boyfriend, climbed the bank onto Slaughterhouse Island and hung herself by a shirtsleeve in a manzanita tree.
Later that very same month, UO student Joel Meyer, 21, fell from a houseboat moored at Slaughterhouse Island, hitting a railing with his head. He was plucked from the water and airlifted to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The deaths and mishaps appeared for a few years to reduce the number of OSU students who attend over Mother's Day weekend, but recent boat rental figures suggest that more students may be returning.
Sandbloom said he is grateful to UC Davis students because they station an extra houseboat at Slaughterhouse Island with emergency medical technicians and paramedics aboard. Last Memorial Day weekend, they took care of hundreds of patients.
Some revelers from Oregon make use of the UC Davis-provided paramedics.
"The Oregon kids take advantage of that, because (the paramedics) don't I.D. them," Sandbloom said. "The Oregon kids say, 'Oh yeah, I'm from Davis.' "
After a full night of partying, students will leave shore at dawn because they know that Forest Service personnel will arrive soon and ask them to help clean up the island, Sandbloom said.
"They drive away and say, 'Hey, we're not there. It's not our responsibility.' "
So the Slaughterhouse Island woods and beaches are strewn with trash.
"There's Solo red cups, beer cans, beer bottles, liquor bottles, napkins, paper plates, flip-flops, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, water bottles, condoms - anything garbage-related you can think of is out there," Sandbloom said.
The problems at Shasta are so unnecessary, Sandbloom said.
"They have pockets," he said. "They could easily put trash in their pockets and dump it off back at their houseboat, but that's not what they want to do.
"We were all young once, but I don't remember being disrespectful like that when I was that age."
Worse than usual
Phyllis Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said this past weekend was worse than usual.
Swanson estimated 60 houseboats - and some additional "patio boats" - with as many as 1,000 students in all swarmed Slaughterhouse Island.
"They left behind an incredible amount of trash. There's probably about 90-plus tents along with all the other gear, sleeping bags, mattresses, pads, clothing, ice chests that were just abandoned."
As of Monday, the Forest Service had hauled out 10 cubic yards of trash, and it will take several more days before the island is usable, she said.
The cleanup diverted Forest Service personnel from their usual preparations for Memorial Day weekend.
"This type of carelessness puts a great amount of stress on us," Swanson said. "It happens. So be it. But let's do it responsible."
Online, some Facebook comments weren't nearly as forgiving. One person suggested that the Forest Service gather up the trash and send it to UO President Michael Schill - or at least send him the cleanup bill.
Others decried the lack of any apparent regard for the outdoors.
"I find that particularly hypocritical, considering Oregon's (especially the university's) stated position on environmental issues," one commentator said.
Some pointed to a UO-commissioned report released in April that addressed blackout drinking and sexual abuse among UO fraternities and sororities.
On Monday, leaders of the UO Greek system condemned the mess-makers.
"It's just really making it clear to our membership and to our chapter presidents and everyone that this is not behavior we condone and it doesn't align with our values," said Tori Ganahl, president of the UO Panhellenic Council.
Evan Anderson, president of the Interfraternity Council, said he's talking with fraternity chapter presidents "who may or may not" have been involved.
"We are working on several options on how to right some wrongs," he said.
Among the possibilities are taking a road trip to Shasta to perform some community service or doing fundraisers to benefit the area, he said. A SITUATION AT SHASTA Shasta County Sheriff Office counts for Memorial Day 2015: Houseboats rented: 194-plus Arrests for boating under the influence: 3 Citations issued for boating violations: 38 Warnings issued for boating violations: 388 Vessels and persons assisted: 521 Medical transports: 8 Overdoses: 2 Injuries: 6
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