Lake Mead National Recreation Area Hosts 150,000 Weekenders and a Hells Angels Poker Run
There were some troublesome incidents, which are fairly common at Lake Mead, but nearly all of the more than 150,000 visitors who flocked to Lake Mead National Recreation Area Labor Day weekend had lots of fun. This happy outcome was not determined by chance. National Park Service personnel went to great lengths to protect and serve park visitors, a task which included making sure that a Hells Angels biker event didn’t become disruptive.
The Lake Mead and Mohave District staff implemented an incident operations plan for handling the huge influx of visitors expected on Labor Day weekend. The plan, which provided 24-hour coverage from Friday through Monday, certainly proved necessary.
It was a very busy weekend at Lake Mead. More than 150,000 visitors showed up, and about 25% of them overnighted in the park. A severe thunderstorm, carelessness, inexperience, intoxication, and bad luck combined to produce numerous incidents. There were 390 vehicle stops and 13 alcohol-related arrests. Dispatchers received a total of 427 emergency calls. Dozens of people had to be rescued after storm-driven waves, some up to five feet, swamped many boats and sunk several. At Six Mile Cove, a 10-year old boy swimming near shore in turbulent water went under and was rescued in the nick of time. At Callville Bay Marina, the commodore of the Lake Mead Yacht Club slipped from the dock and drowned.
Gary Warshefski, Deputy Superintendent at Lake Mead, told me that the weekend went quite well, all things considered. Given the huge size of the weekend crowd, the severity of the storm that boiled up Sunday afternoon, and factors such as the very limited skills of many boaters, there could have been many more incidents and serious injuries or fatalities.
A Hells Angels poker run that was issued a permit to pass through Lake Mead during Labor Day weekend was of special concern to Lake Mead officials. The Hells Angels are one of the big four “outlaw motorcycle gangs” (the others being the Outlaws, the Pagans, and the Bandidos). As most people are aware, the Harley-riding Hells Angels got their outlaw reputation because of their habit of behaving very disruptively, and sometimes violently.
To make sure there would be an appropriate show of force, making it clear to the biker group that they would be given no slack in the park, Lake Mead officials arranged for a very strong law enforcement presence. On hand were a Park Police Special Event and Tactical Team (SETT), rangers borrowed from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Yosemite National Park, National Park Service special agents, and officers from other federal agencies. Also assisting were officers from Clark County, Las Vegas, and the nearby communities of Henderson, Boulder City, and Hoover Dam. Thanks to the good work of the SETT and other enforcement officers, the Hells Angels poker run, which involved about 150 bikers, was minimally disruptive.