The county plans to change the way it handles an annual event on Bolivar Peninsula after a wild weekend led to scores of arrests and even more complaints about bad behavior, officials said Monday.
Deputies arrested 125 people on the peninsula and responded to about 600 calls for service from Thursday to Sunday, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
Most of the arrests were related to Jeep Weekend, the unofficial title of a loosely organized beach party held on the peninsula for the past 12 years.
The arrests, dozens of auto accidents, including some causing major injuries, traffic gridlock on state Highway 87, general rowdy behavior and fights have some people calling for a ban on the event.
The busy weekend was not the result of a single large event, but of multiple small ones, officials said. Jeep Weekend, also known as Go Topless Weekend, is a nationwide event promoted by the Jeep brand that started as a meet-up for jeep enthusiasts.
The meet-up event on Bolivar has grown in size in recent years and draws people who are not strictly Jeep owners. In addition to the Jeep gathering, there were at least two other events being advertised on Facebook, one called “MAGA Beach Bash 2019” and another called “Rednecks with Paychecks.”
Still, most of the ire has been directed at what’s seen as the largest event.
More than 14,000 people had signed an online petition for the end of “Go Topless Weekend” on the website change.org by Monday afternoon. Other online chatter has called for the county to ban Jeeps from Bolivar beaches, or to prohibit alcohol or to charge visitors to the event a premium to use the beach.
Commissioners Darrell Apffel, whose precinct includes Bolivar Peninsula, said he had fielded calls about the event and was working on proposals that would address some of the issues.
Those proposals don’t involve closing or banning people from beaches, Apffel said.
Rather, he said he would propose increasing the sheriff’s budget to pay for more overtime for deputies to work the event.
“The only thing we can do is more funding for more officers and emergency services, and to come up with a better mobility plan to keep the people moving,” he said.
The sheriff’s office had as many as 50 deputies on the peninsula over the weekend, Trochesset said. His count included deputies who worked the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry and at the county’s sub-station and holding facility at Crystal Beach, he said.
Trochesset also asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to send state troopers to help patrol the beach, but he didn’t know Monday exactly how many troopers went or how long they stayed.
The sheriff’s office is still reviewing its performance over the weekend, he said.
“We review every major weekend to make sure that we’re staffed as best as we can, with the number of employees that we have and the amount of equipment that we have, that’s not going to change,” Trochesset said.
Apffel also wanted the county to explore the possibility of limiting beach access points during the event so traffic could move in only one direction during the weekend.
Doing so would be complicated because state beach access laws require Texas General Land Office approval for the county to preemptively close beaches.
“We can’t close beaches, we can’t close access points,” Apffel said. “The beaches are open to everyone. We cannot close access points alone. But we are going to have to do something next year.”
The land office was aware of complaints about the weekend and was working with the county, spokeswoman Karina Erickson said.
“The GLO has spoken with the county and are discussing how access to the beach can best be managed to protect public safety, in addition to mitigating the environmental impacts associated with large events such as these,” Erickson said.
The county does have the ability to restrict access and direction of travel during public emergencies, she said.