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Go slow, go fast: Mokelumne River debate continues

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Posted: Friday, June 30, 2000 10:00 pm

Just over a block to the north of Turner Road, Lodi residents share the Mokelumne River with deer, geese, salmon and many other species of wildlife.

Perhaps more evident, though, Lodi residents share the river with each other.

Skiers, canoers, personal watercraft riders, homeowners, fishermen and kayakers, to name a few, all play on the same waterway.

A ski boat and canoe accident which killed an 11-year-old boy Sunday has heightened the tensions between the groups.

The accident has city and county officials wondering if there’s a better way to regulate the river, which doesn’t have a speed limit and isn’t often patrolled now.

Local residents make their cases.

Homeowners want peace

Harold and Mayvis Kundert rescued a drenched plank floating by years ago and turned it into their fireplace mantle. Inside and out, the river is home to the couple, whose house is situated at a bend not far from Lodi Lake.

From their shady landscaped back yard, they watch kayaks and motorboats try to share the water — a cooperative effort that the Kunderts see as merely in vain.

“I say make the river 5 mph. Then anyone can enjoy it,” Harold Kundert said. “It seems so obvious to me, but hopeless when you got a guy with a big boat who wants to roar around in it.”

Harold Kundert remembers the years as a boy when he and his friends played on homemade rafts and kayaks and his wife fondly recalls using a paddleboard.

But these days, they keep to the land. A seldom-used pontoon boat undulates at their dock when personal watercraft such as Jet Skis buzz by.

The river has been claimed by faster movers, they say.

While they spoke, a few personal watercraft whizzed by — a man towing a kid in an innertube, a man with a kid and a dog.

They shake their heads at the folly in front of them.

“Are you familiar with 17-mile drive in Carmel?” Harold Kundert asked, speaking of the narrow curvy coastal road with a mostly 25 mph speed limit. “How would you like to have race cars on that?”

In the days since the crash, the water has been eerily calm, the Kunderts say.

Not since former Vice President Dan Quayle was having lunch at a home on the opposite shore has the stream been so vacant.

Strange as the silence is for the Kunderts, it’s better than the river being busy, they say.

A few years ago, when they were preparing for a wedding in their yard, a jet boat couldn’t make the turn and slid up to the middle of their lawn.

The speed limit should be 5 mph because it’s hard to stop a boat, they say.

Boats aren’t like cars, with brakes, Harold Kundert pointed out. Momentum keeps them going after the engine’s off.

“You shut the power off you’re like a bomb,” Harold Kundert said.

But they aren’t fuddy-duddys, they say. And they understand the lure of the river for young people always in a hurry.

Mayvis Kundert used to ski years ago, but on the Sacramento River.

“You could see for miles there,” she said. “But it was boring.”

Wakeboarder wants space

There’s enough room in the river for elephants, wakeboarder Ryan Bedford says.

There’s room for Raileys and Scarecrows and Crowmobes too.

Bedford, 17, is known along the Mokelumne River for the easy way he performs these wakeboarder tricks with funny names.

Ryan’s dad, Dave Bedford, gets a kick out of the jargon. And Ryan, a semi-professional, gets a rush out of the airborne flips and smooth landings that the terms imply.

“Flying through the air,” Ryan Bedford said. “That’s what I like,”

The Bedfords and other wakeboarders aren’t sure there’s space in the river for slow-moving canoes and packs of kayaks.

“They’re not keeping up with the rest of the flow of traffic,” Ryan Bedford said.

Fellow wakeboarder and Lodi High School classmate Garrett Fry agrees.

Since canoes don’t have motors, they can’t get out of the way, Fry said.

“They sit so low in the water,” he said. “When you wakeboard, you have more weight in the back and the bow sticks up and you can’t really see.”

Rather than try to coexist, these enthusiasts suggested some changes.

Fry proposed designating certain places where each kind of boat can use the river.

And Ryan Bedford agrees.

“If (slower-moving boats) want peace and quiet, just go to Lodi Lake,” he said. “There’s a lot of places they can go that we’re not (allowed).”

Bedford tries to stay in the wider area near Woodbridge Dam, he said. But all wakeboarders and skiers don’t.

Dave Bedford mentioned an idea that he says seems to come up often when river problems are discussed — staggered days for passive and aggressive water crafts.

“I would hope that instead of the pendulum swinging all the way back to 5 mph, we could try a balance,” Dave Bedford said.

For now, when Ryan Bedford goes wakeboarding, he makes sure he has a good driver, he said, and a couple of spotters to let the driver know to stop if he falls. It’s inexperience that poses the biggest problem for river users, Ryan Bedford said.

And most of those inexperienced people are driving the personal watercraft.

“That’s a big problem,” he said. “They don’t realize how close they get to us.”

Ryan Bedford, who mastered the sport on the Mokelumne River, calls the waterway his “home court.”

“This is something that I’d hate to have taken away from the kids,” Dave Bedford said Thursday. “But then again, I don’t want to see another Sunday like last Sunday.”

Skier wants wakes

According to canoers and speedsters, Jerrold Clemens is a troublemaker.

Maybe not Clemens specifically, but Clemens as a member of the personal watercraft community, otherwise known as a jetskier.

Speed boats and skiers consider them fleas.

Canoers and kayakers don’t think of them much differently than larger motorized craft, making waves and noise, and making ducks scatter.

Clemens is aware of the stereotypes and the hostility.

“They’ll ban it eventually,” Clemens said. “Too many people against it.”

But riding personal watercraft is a legitimate and relaxing pastime, Clemens says.

“People should understand the sport more before they get involved,” he said. “The older generation needs to not forget that when they were young they used to like to do these kinds of things.

“It’s freedom. It’s a rush to be able to hit a wave at 40 mph and see how high you can jump. It’s just playing in the water.”

He’s been a skier for seven years.

Before he worked so much, he used to take his craft out every night on the Mokelumne River.

The 28-year-old obeys the laws that say he has to stay 100 feet away from a boat, but he points out that that’s closer than a lot of boaters realize.

The big, heavy power boats that rough up the water as they slice through it are actually Clemens’ friends on the river, whether or not the feeling is mutual.

Slower moving canoes and paddleboats are more of a hindrance. “They’re under-powered,” Clemens said. “They don’t have any way of getting out of the way.”

He knows that the water can be dangerous, having been close to accidents himself. Once, when he was wake-boarding, another jetskier ran over his rope.

So he pays attention to safety, and thinks everyone should.

“There should be a class. If you’re gonna ride on the river you should have a certificate that says, ‘I’m river smart.’”

Canoer wants stillness

About every other day, John Silver Arrow Borrero glides down the Mokelumne to visits his wife’s ashes, which are sprinkled on the river bank not far from his home.

He goes early in the morning, when the water is still.

The eagles answer his whistles and the beavers swim alongside his boat.

“In a canoe, you’re doing what the animals are doing,” Borrero said. “It’s peaceful. You feel independent.”

Borrero, a Cherokee Indian, demonstrated how to angle the craft into the ripples that motor boats leave behind. That way the canoe doesn’t rock its passengers into the cold, green river.

Borerro unhappily adjusts to make way for the motor boats that he says try to capsize his tiny craft. They mistreat the river, he says. “They come here to show off,” Borrero said of skiers and faster boats. “They can’t feel the water. They can hardly see it.

“They gotta have respect for water. We gotta wake up people to the fact that water does hurt you. People got respect for fire. Water does the same thing.”

Borrero has that respect for the water and the other users, he said. He knows to zip his life vest tight and wave the paddle in the air at head-on traffic.

But those safety precautions aren’t enough for him.

Borrero wants a 5 mph speed limit on the river. And he wants it now. He’s annoyed at how city and county officials talk of task forces and studies. They think of money and not of people, Borrero said.

“Just buy signs and put them up,” he said. “There’s no such thing as ‘We’re gonna look into it.’”

Comments about this story? Send mail to Nicole Casal

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