YouTube yahoos and access for stupidity

On top of all the other things they must manage for, public lands agencies in southeastern Utah are now trying to figure out how to keep reckless people from swinging off the state’s famous arches and plummeting to their deaths on the rocks below.

But in trying to protect the reckless among us, they shouldn’t restrict access to those who want to enjoy our public lands in a more responsible manner.

Swinging to his death is what happened Sunday to Kyle Lee Stocking of West Jordan, Utah. He died at Corona Arch south of Moab because he misjudged the length of rope he needed for his daredevil feat, authorities said.

Stocking, 22, was attempting to mimic a so-called “pendulum swing” made popular on YouTube videos, in which people leap from a rock arch more than 100 feet high and swing under the arch in a harness and rope calculated to keep them just above the ground below.

Corona Arch is on Utah state trust lands, but it is scheduled to be turned over to the Bureau of Land Management in a land swap this year.

The Utah Land Trust Association has already banned commercial outfitters from taking paying customers to go pendulum swinging at Corona Arch, and it has posted warning signs for private swingers, advising them that even if they aren’t killed, they could suffer serious injury during a pendulum swing.

BLM officials, meanwhile, say they are “taking a closer look at appropriate ways to balance and manage these activities on public lands.” Exactly what that means is not clear, but the BLM generally allows people more leeway than, say, the National Park Service to act recklessly on public lands so long as they aren’t endangering others or damaging resources.

That’s appropriate in most cases. We don’t think federal agencies should attempt to protect all individuals who want to engage in dangerous activities on public lands. Whether it’s climbing rock walls, swimming in potholes, going hiking alone in wilderness areas or skiing in the backcountry when avalanches are a possibility, people will continually challenge nature and themselves. Short of locking people out of public lands entirely, agencies that manage public lands neither can nor should attempt to ban all such activities.

Of course, some activities are far more dangerous than others, and pendulum swinging would seem to be right up there with BASE jumping as an extreme sport that has a high risk of ending in fatality.

We hope Stocking’s death will make many others reconsider the activity that may have looked fun on YouTube but is incredibly stupid in practice.


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