The so-called can ban doesn’t prohibit alcohol, but that message hasn’t been sticking.
“People are calling saying, ‘You can’t drink in New Braunfels, so why am I coming?“’ said Shane Wolf, general manager of Rockin’ R River Outfitters, the city’s dominant tube rental company.
Beer and liquor are still allowed on the river if poured into reusable containers, and neon plastic Chug-a-Mugs that hold up to three beers are now ubiquitous. But while the New Braunfels Convention and Visitors Bureau has yet to release figures, director Judy Young concedes that business has been slower since the ban.
Prevailing instead was a campaign that on its face was about curbing litter and environmental stewardship of the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. But motivating a not insignificant bloc of the city’s 58,000 residents was an appetite to clamp down on what many saw as an alcohol-fueled floating frat party with public nudity, sex, fights and loud music.
Finishing a can of Bud Light in a parking lot before heading into the water where it’s verboten, Dana Austin said that at 24, he doesn’t mind the rowdiness. But he said he supports the law’s environmental aims after years of watching tubers chuck cans into the river and along the banks.
“You’d see a frat boy floating up a little bit ahead of you, and they’d sort of do a free throw into the woods,” Austin said.
As far as trash and rowdiness go, can ban backers are already claiming victory. City data show that 1,800 pounds of litter was collected in and around the river in May — about 15 percent of the amount that had to be cleaned up in May last year.
Other unruly behavior also seems to be on the downturn. New Braunfels police Capt. Michael Penshorn said that on a recent June weekend, police patrolling the river issued 26 citations and arrested four people on charges ranging from minors in possession to public intoxication. On the same weekend last year, police wrote 42 citations and made 17 arrests.
The city has engaged in a marketing campaign aimed at clearing up the confusion about the new ordinance. I suspect that one way or another the tourists will come back, though I suppose it could take a few years. I’ve said before, I have some cousins in New Braunfels, and I know from speaking to them that they would be supporters of the can ban, for the reasons cited in the story. Folks in my neighborhood, who had seen Lights in the Heights grown out of control over the years before taking steps to dial it back last year, would sympathize. The effect on the businesses is unfortunate, but these things can happen when there are competing interests. It will sort itself out.