published Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Signal Mountain upholds ban on rock climbing


by Elizabeth Ryan

The Signal Mountain Town Council has rejected a request to overturn its ban on rock climbing on public land.

Local rock climber Britt Reynolds asked the council last fall to consider an ordinance allowing climbers legal access to the quarter-mile stretch of 50-foot-tall rock along Signal Point.

A 1992 ordinance prohibiting rock climbing on public and private land was enacted after a number of climbing accidents, City Manager Honna Rogers said, but she could not provide details.

Mr. Reynolds said the law was “arcane” and “hastily” put in place.

The council voted down the request Monday.

Ms. Rogers said concerns over insurance rates and the impact on city services weighed heavily in the decision.

“The staff recommended against it mainly because our police chief and fire chief had concerns about when you have a fall of some kind, it ties up resources,” she said. “You have to think that once they’re all there (on the scene), what do you do if there’s a fire somewhere else?”

Ms. Rogers also said the Tennessee Municipal League, the city’s insurer, recommended against opening the area up for recreational use out of concern that a town worker could be injured while attempting to rescue climbers.

But Mr. Reynolds said their concern is misplaced, since rock climbers access the rock from the Cumberland Trail.

“It’s really the same situation whether they’re going down there to rescue someone with a twisted ankle or a climber who has fallen,” he said. “Our argument is that the climbing user group is just as entitled to those resources as the hiking user group.”

The Tennessee Recreational Use statute, which protects public entities from liability claims if someone is injured on recreational land, also would apply to any town-owned climbing access, Mr. Reynolds said.

Signal Mountain emergency services workers leave rescues that involve technical climbing skills such as rappelling to the Cave, Cliff Technical Unit of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue Service, unit member Bruce Smith said.

Mr. Reynolds said he will continue to press the issue with Signal Mountain, but said the ban doesn’t prevent local climbers from pursuing their sport.

“There’s lots of better places to climb, but if you’ve got it in your neighborhood, you’re going to use it,” he said.

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