Jackson, Wyoming residents ask for some "slack"

2011-05-21T10:25:00Z Jackson, Wyoming residents ask for some "slack"The Associated Press The Associated Press
May 21, 2011 10:25 am  • 

JACKSON, Wyo.  - Peter Hudnut was enjoying the afternoon in Miller Park last May when a Jackson police officer intervened.

Hudnut, as it turned out, was breaking a town ordinance which prohibits slacklining in public parks.

When the officer told Hudnut to take down his line, he complied.

Instead of being upset, Hudnut began what would turn into a crusade.

He went to the library to research municipal code 9.52.050 - the one he was told he was breaking. What he learned was equal parts shocking and hilarious to him.

Municipal code 9.52.050 states that no person can tether a rope, wire, or other contrivance around a tree. The ordinance was created to protect the health of trees, and was written into law almost a century ago when people frequently tied their horses to them.

The law wasn't aimed at slacklining, a sport in which a person walks across a piece of nylon webbing (resembling a rope) tensioned between two anchor points.

Slacklining is somewhat like tightrope walking, except the line is not held taut. Instead, it stretches and bounces under the feet.

"It just seemed really absurd that a horse-tethering law is preventing us from slacklining," he said.

Armed with this information, Hudnut wrote Mayor Mark Barron. Hudnut said the ordinance has been misapplied and asked the mayor to allow slacklining in public parks.

Hudnut said his line did no harm to the trees it was tied to because it was wrapped in padded spansets, an observation supported, he said, by the police officer who told him to take his line down.

"Even the officer agreed that I wasn't damaging the trees," he said.

Hudnut said the mayor responded politely to his letters, but the ordinance remained unchanged.

"Slacklining remained a crime in Jackson," Hudnut said.

He continued to write emails and letters to the mayor over the course of the past year. As many as 15, he estimates. Hudnut asked if he could meet with the Jackson Town Council to discuss the ordinance.

Finally, the town took notice. Earlier this year, Barron and Town Manager Bob McLaurin asked the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department to look into building permanent slacklining anchor posts in one of the town's public park. The issue finally came before the parks and rec board earlier this month.

The meeting was open to the public and attended by several members of the slacklining community, including Hudnut. The initiative, spearheaded by the department's director, Steve Ashworth, received a warm response from board members. They agreed that approving slacklining would be a positive step toward enhancing Jackson's image as a progressive outdoor recreation town.

Several obstacles stand in the way of the parks and rec approving slacklining posts in one park: Funding, safety and location.

Ultimately, though, the matter will come down to money.

The board estimates that it will cost $6,000 to install permanent posts that would rise several feet out of the ground to allow slackliners to use as an anchor. Due to budget constraints, parks and rec can't afford such cost.

The board decided to table the issue until its June meeting and asked members of the slacklining community to show their support by raising some, if not all, of the $6,000 needed.

What is unclear is how popular slacklining is in Jackson. The Enclosure indoor rock climbing gym on Highway 89 south of town offers indoor slacklining, which attracts people of all ages.

Caroline Hudnut, Peter's sister, said slacklining continues to occur in outdoor parks because many people aren't aware of the ordinance prohibiting it.

"I think most people don't know about the law," she said. "But this is a town full of people who like to play outside. If we can allow this in a public park, it will be very popular."

 

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