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"Party Cove" to be restricted

March 05, 1997
By: Susana Vera
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Nudity, drugs, underage drinking, traffic congestion, property damage and safety hazards were some of the terms used Wednesday in the state legislature to describe Lake of the Ozarks "Party Cove."

"We don't want Lake of the Ozarks to be known as a place for pornography," said Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, sponsor of a Senate bill that intends to give the water patrol larger powers to regulate the Party Cove.

Since last years' Memorial Day, hundreds of boaters tie their crafts together and party in Anderson Cove, inside Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Property owners complain they can't enjoy the lake any more.

When the boats congregate during the weekend boaters can't get their crafts out of their docks due to the rough waters and traffic congestion.

"Hundreds of boats together pose also big safety problems. One person smoking in the wrong place and at the wrong time could make the whole place explode," said Jerry Johnson, a property owner in the lake.

To prevent this from happening, Russell and a few House members have proposed bills to restrict boat gatherings. Russell's bill would require rafts of boats to be at least 300 feet apart. Flotillas of more than 12 vessels would also be prohibited.

The Senate bill would give the state Water Patrol more power to regulate the Party Cove in the lake. The Water Patrol officers would be authorized to disperse rafts and to arrest people who expose their genitals or have sexual contact in the presence of others.

"The nudity clause has been needed for quite some time, even though the most important thing is to address the problem of safety. With all those boats tied together there's no way we can get in and out on time," said Water Patrol Commissioner Larry Whitten.

Whitten said that rafts create different layers of boats throughout the lake that make it impossible for anybody to get through." Last year a man would have died hadn't there been a nurse with him," said Whitten.

But there are some boat sellers that don't quite agree on the content of the bill. Tom McCarthy, with Marine Dealers, said the lake has a 10 year history of the Party Cove.

"In those 10 years nothing has happened. It's good to take measures to stop the nudity scenes that create a bad image of Lake of the Ozarks, but this bill goes too far," said McCarthy.

McCarthy voiced concern that under Russell's bill, certain lake activities that bring in tourists, such as several sport events. He also argued the bill law could be unconstitutional, since it could violate people's right to freedom of assembly.

McCarthy said he didn't think this legal measure would do much to solve traffic congestion or rough waters during the weekend.