Clackamas County commissioners took a necessary step two weeks ago in unanimously approving rules to allow for visual inspections of personal items belonging to people entering public parks.

Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies and other designated individuals now have the authority to inspect coolers, bags and backpacks, and they will tell those in violation of park rules to leave. Ordinance amendments also prohibit glass on county park property unless otherwise allowed by permit.

Granted, county officials exaggerated reports of mass riots and drowning on the Clackamas River to pass the new rules. And although commissioners rushed their decision through at an emergency hearing Aug. 15, it was the correct decision.

Bottom line: Increased recreational use of the Clackamas River resulted in real public safety issues and environmental concerns related to drunkenness, littering and trespassing. Cleanup efforts during the past decade have each year removed an average 5,700 pounds of garbage, much of it beer cans and bottles.

Sure, some people are crying out: “They took away my right to have a beer in the park!” But rules were already on the books against alcohol in county parks. By entering public places such as courthouses, airports, concert halls and sporting arenas, you should already expect to be searched.

You can’t drive with an open container, even if you’re older than 21 and below the legal blood-alcohol limit. Driving is a privilege, not a right. No one has the “right” to break such commonsense rules.

As Commissioner Jim Bernard noted, we elect politicians to protect the public by “enacting laws that protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Commissioner Paul Savas added, “People have a choice. If they don’t want their coolers and backpacks inspected, they can turn around and go elsewhere. People have a right to enjoy the park safely.”

We encourage county residents to volunteer with the hundreds of people expected to descend on Barton Park Sept. 8 as part of the 11th annual Down the River Clean Up.

Some of what is found will be thrown away, but more than half of it will be recycled. Other pieces of garbage will be turned into art and exhibited in the annual Ripple Art Show in Portland Nov. 7.

After the cleanup on Sept. 8, there will be a free gourmet barbecue, live music by Tubs of Love, educational booths and (nonalcoholic) libations. A silent auction will feature many outdoor items from organizations supporting the event, including MTI Adventurewear, Kokatat, NRS, Aldercreek Canoe & Kayak, Patagonia, Looptworks, Columbia Sportswear, Leatherman and more. All proceeds benefit We Love Clean Rivers and its efforts to coordinate boat-based river restoration efforts.

Pre-registration is required to volunteer and is now open at