University of Oregon students got a viral black eye this week when photographs on social media revealed huge piles of trash — with much “O”-branded paraphernalia included — strewn across Slaughterhouse Island on Lake Shasta in Northern California.
It’s unknown whether UO students are entirely to blame for the weekend’s trash heap. But for at least 20 years, UO students have celebrated a spring rite they call “Shasta weekend,” and they generally avoid picking up the party rubble afterward, Sgt. Rob Sandbloom of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said this week.
Photos posted Monday on Facebook by a California woman showed — amid the trash — an abandoned UO tote bag, flip-flops with the “O” logo and a Lambda Chi Alpha cooler. More than 20,000 users shared the post as of early Monday evening.
The sight was “absolutely disgraceful,” Robin Holmes, UO vice president for student life, said Monday. “It’s not activities or behaviors we would ever accept in any way.”
The university is investigating the situation and talking with the landowner, which is the federal government. The island is located within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
“We’re doing everything we can to follow up on whatever information we’ve been given,” Holmes said.
The university said the fraternity’s national organization had “taken the commendable step of suspending all of its UO chapter’s activities until the situation is addressed.” The chapter also apologized on Facebook.
On Wednesday, the school suspended Lambda Chi Alpha.
May has long been the month for drunken or drug-addled recreation on houseboats on Shasta Lake.
Traditionally, Oregon State University students visit the lake on Mother’s Day weekend, and UO and University of California, Davis, students take to the lake on Memorial Day weekend, Sandbloom said. Last weekend preceded Memorial Day by a week.
UO students anticipate the excursion for months, going to the Student Rec Center on campus to “Shasta-cize” in order to look their best in a swimsuit, according to the Daily Emerald student newspaper.
Shasta resorts rent as many as 200 houseboats to the student revelers.
Sandbloom said students circumvent the houseboat capacity by picking up additional students at the public boat launch before proceeding to Slaughterhouse Island, where partying can rage day and night for days. Sandbloom said there can be 2,500 to 5,000 students at the lake, although last weekend's crowd was estimated at 1,000.
“They’ll have 10 kegs in the back of a U-Haul,” he said. “They’ll have cases upon cases of beer and side-handled bottles of alcohol.”
He said the Slaughterhouse Island woods and beaches are strewn with trash.
“There’s Solo red cups, beer cans, beer bottles, liquor bottles, napkins, paper plates, flip-flops, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, water bottles, condoms — anything garbage-related you can think of is out there,” Sandbloom said.
For the most part, sheriff’s deputies observe the goings-on from their 22-foot-long platform boats.
“We really don’t go on the island; it’s for officer safety,” Sandbloom said. “There are just so many kids on the island they could overpower us.”
Sandbloom said the local sheriff’s office calls on multiple law enforcement and other agencies to assist during the marathon weekends. Shasta County emergency services prepare as if it were a natural disaster, with detailed plans and briefings, he said.
Officials know they’re likely to see alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses, falls from houseboats and the island’s rocky shore, fights and, some years, deaths.
In 2001, an OSU fraternity member drowned when he slipped and fell from a houseboat. In 2005 an OSU sorority member committed suicide after an argument with her boyfriend and that same year a UO student died after falling from a houseboat and striking his head on a railing.
Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman Phyllis Swanson said that after this year's party, it took about 25 workers five hours to clean up the mess on Slaughterhouse Island.
“They left behind an incredible amount of trash," she said. "There’s probably about 90-plus tents along with all the other gear, sleeping bags, mattresses, pads, clothing, ice chests that were just abandoned.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.