Dozens of sheriff’s deputies will be joined by constables and state troopers on Bolivar Peninsula beginning Friday as the county braces for the annual Jeep Weekend event.
The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office will have deputies working overtime at the jail and jail substation, on the beach, on local highways and on the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
“You hope for the best, but we’ve got the number of employees that would be here for the Fourth of July,” Trochesset said.
In addition to the local officers, Chambers County deputies will increase enforcement on state Highway 87 and the Texas Department of Public Safety will send troopers to the area, Trochesset said.
The goal is to clamp down on drunken driving, reckless driving and other unruly behavior that tends to happen during a high-attendance weekend.
“This has nothing to do with hassling people,” Galveston County Commissioner Darrell Apffel said. “This is to do with control.
“It’s not about telling them, ‘We don’t want you here.’ It’s about having a presence.”
An even larger number of state troopers were supposed to be on the peninsula this year, Apffel said. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reassigned some of them to the Texas-Mexico border, he said.
Jeep Weekend, or Go Topless Weekend, is an annual beach party that started as a gathering for Jeep owners and enthusiasts. The event has grown to be an annual beach party held the weekend after Mother’s Day. It can draw tens of thousands of people and be as busy for public safety officials as a major holiday.
The event has no central organizer.
The county also has arranged to station a nurse on the peninsula to help draw blood for testing from people suspected of driving while intoxicated. An assistant district attorney will be in the area to advise police on charges for some crimes.
Galveston County Emergency Services District No. 2 has arranged for eight ambulances to be on the peninsula and for a helicopter to be available for medical airlift, officials said.
Officials didn’t have a good feel for how big the crowds would be this year, they said. Social media traffic for the event seemed less prevalent this year, and beach rental companies were still reporting some vacancies for the weekend, Apffel said.
Still, officials said they’ve learned in recent years that crowds can be bigger than expected and can show up quickly.
The number of people who attended the event in 2019 overwhelmed the peninsula and caused traffic gridlock. Last year, crowds initially stayed away from the beach Friday because of torrential rains and high tides but showed up in large numbers Saturday as the weather cleared.
“We just don’t know,” Apffel said. “But the last two weekends there’s been extra-large crowds on the peninsula because people are tired and ready to get out. If you couple that with a medium crowd of Jeepers, you’ve just got to be ready.”
In an attempt to prevent traffic gridlock this year, the county is putting signs up at every beach access point to try to discourage people from driving all the way to the Crystal Beach Road before turning south to get to the beach.
Most of the preparations for the weekend are happening on the peninsula, but the city of Galveston is planning for some spillover.
Generally, Galveston doesn’t experience the same types of disruptions from the Jeep event that Bolivar Peninsula does.
Still, the city announced it would take extra traffic precautions on Seawall Boulevard, including erecting temporary street lights and blocking parking on the far east and west ends of the street where car clubs and other groups sometimes gather in large crowds.
The city said there might be more temporary closures of parking areas over the weekend. If the city needs to block off free parking areas in one spot, it will open new free parking spots elsewhere on the Seawall, officials said.
Parking closures on Seawall Boulevard will begin Friday morning and end Sunday evening, the city said.