Sex on the beach: Craigslist fostering hook-ups at the American River near Auburn

By: Gus Thomson, Journal staff writer
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Craigslist is spreading the word over the Internet that a stretch of the American River recently reopened to boaters near Auburn is a great place for open-air sexual encounters. And it’s not a situation that local tourism authorities and boaters were expecting or are welcoming. Downstream from the American River confluence, the China Bar area was opened to recreational boaters last year and launched its second season last weekend. An isolated stretch of beach about a half-mile long is now being touted on the Craigslist Internet site as a popular place for nude sunbathing and hookups for anonymous sex. Typing in the words “nude beach” on the Craigslist personals Web page over the past month turned up several posts like this: “Guys this place is the best!,” one writer stated. “It’s not patrolled by rangers … sex in the open is common — I have personally come across some very hot scenes and joined in.” The writer — all Craigslist comments are anonymous — goes on to say that things did get “out of hand” one time when a group was engaging in sex acts while other naked bystanders were cheering them on “in view of the public upriver.” “The cops came out and told everyone to chill out,” the writer said. “All these guys were naked and no one was arrested.” More comments have followed in subsequent weeks in the “men seeking men” and “casual encounters” sections looking for others to meet at the river. “Hey guys, with some warm temps this weekend, it’d be a great couple of days to have some naked fun and frolic out in the nude beach,” another post stated. “Am into bears and cubs (a term for 18-to-25-year-old gay males) but who knows what can happen at the river,’ said yet another post, noting his age, physical characteristics and negative HIV/AIDS test. Those encounters have been witnessed in the past by boaters who up until a year ago were in an area considered unsafe and illegal to use because of a downstream tunnel. The tunnel has since been closed off at the Auburn dam site. With $72 million in work to build a pumping station and restore the previously tunneled river channel, the State Parks Department re-opened the river in the canyon below Auburn last May. It had been closed to public boating for more than three decades. For boaters like Auburn’s Eric Peach, who has led several rafting trips along the China Bar stretch, the Craigslist posts are indicative of a situation that is creating concern. “We’ve got to stop treating that part of the river like a dark alley,” Peach said. “It’s close to town and we have to uphold ethical standards.” At the California Welcome Center, the Placer County Visitor’s Bureau has brochures on the Auburn State Recreation Area the stretch of river is located in but isn’t about to start pointing out directions to the beach, said CEO Jan Decker. “We haven’t had anyone coming to the welcome center inquiring about it,” Decker said. “It seems to be word of mouth.” But Decker also said parks rangers who patrol the area would likely have a difficult time maintaining the law against lewd and lascivious activity. “Unless they go down there and the parks people stand guard,” he said. Peach echoed Decker’s thoughts but added that warning signs might help deter activity on a river that has the promise of becoming a popular boater destination. Scott Nakaji, superintendent of the Gold Fields District that takes in the Auburn State Recreation Area, said that if there is any type of illegal activity, the State Parks Department would respond to the call and investigate. On the issue of nudity, the parks department has chosen not to designate clothing-optional areas in state parks. While public nudity is a violation of the law, parks policy is to only act on a complaint from the public. Illicit sexual activity falls under the Penal Code. “If we get reports, we’ll address the situation appropriately,” Nakaji said. “We’re not aware of a whole host of incidents.” The Parks Department doesn’t have any control over Craigslist, he said. “Overall, it’s not for us to decide what they do on their own time and how they might meet,” Nakaji said. Craigslist is an open-ended online bazaar for selling concert tickets to autos. It has recently been under pressure to close its “erotic services’ section of its Web site after a Boston masseuse who advertised there was killed. A medical student is accused of killing her after finding her information at the site. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at