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Cal Poly seeks to limit slacklining, ban hammocks on campus

Carter Wilson, president and founder of the Cal Poly Hammock Club, rests in his hammock in June under the train trestle at Cal Poly.
Carter Wilson, president and founder of the Cal Poly Hammock Club, rests in his hammock in June under the train trestle at Cal Poly. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

To protect trees and prevent injuries on campus, Cal Poly has created an interim policy banning the use of hammocks and limiting a sport called slacklining to designated areas.

Meanwhile, students have rallied in protest, with nearly 1,300 signing a petition saying that the university is trying to take away enjoyable recreational activities.

“We were caught completely off guard when the university decided not just to regulate hammocks, but to prohibit them altogether,” Cal Poly Hammock Club President Carter Wilson told The Tribune. “We were never contacted or had any meetings on the subject prior to this policy change.”

Wilson helped to found the Cal Poly Hammock Club in March. The club has grown to 175 members.

Slacklining is similar to tightrope walking with lines stretched between trees or poles. It can involve acrobatic tricks when participants bounce on the taut rope like a narrow trampoline.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said allowing unrestricted access could present “inherent dangers in activities that involve students climbing tall trees to install ropes or hammocks and dangling or doing tricks 30 feet in the air, or sometimes higher.”

“There was a 2013 incident at Utah State University in which a student died after riding his bike into a slackline rope tied between two trees on the campus,” Lazier added.

We were caught completely off guard when the university decided not just to regulate hammocks, but to prohibit them altogether.

Carter Wilson, Cal Poly Hammock Club president

Cal Poly’s discussions on the issues began last December, and a draft policy was developed in April.

The university has a 30-day window for public comment on its interim policy, which began Oct. 23. The temporary policy may be revised before Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong makes a final decision to implement it.

Cal Poly software engineering major Maxwell Taylor, who organized the petition, isn’t happy about the proposed policy.

“The possibility for danger is pretty minimal,” Taylor said. “Our lines are no more than 4 feet off the ground. The liability issues are no different from other sports, like basketball and soccer. They can’t claim that one sport causes liability more than any other.”

Taylor noted slacklining was legalized in San Luis Obispo after persistent efforts by local participants in the sport, allowing daytime participation using protective wraps to prevent harm to trees in certain city parks.

“The city already has a municipal code section that outlines the guidelines for how to put slackline up,” Taylor said. “In the case of Cal Poly’s policy, they should default to the city’s code.”

Taylor said the city’s assessment showed that hanging lines on trees didn’t harm them, noting the city guideline is to use trees at least a foot in diameter.

The university has 545 species of trees on campus. Scott Loosley, Cal Poly’s director for Facilities Operations, is concerned about unmonitored placement of slacklines on those plants.

There was a 2013 incident at Utah State University in which a student died after riding his bike into a slackline rope tied between two trees on the campus.

Matt Lazier, Cal Poly spokesman

No designated areas with university-installed poles yet exist on campus, but Cal Poly plans to build them in multiple locations, Loosley said.

“Activities such as stunts, tricks or flips are not permitted as these are extremely unsafe activities,” the interim policy states.

Taylor said Cal Poly has about 20 regular slackliners, including a small group of “trickliners” who do acrobatics, and several others who participate in the sport occasionally. Stretched lines typically range from 100 to 270 feet. Designated parks would be too restrictive with the types of lengths and slack the slackliners would want, he said.

Jerry Miszewski, a Cal Poly graduate who advocated for the legalization of slacklining in San Luis Obispo, said that restrictions won’t deter people.

“This sport will happen where people want it to whether it’s allowed or not,” Miszewski said. “Prohibition has been shown not to work. It makes far more sense to allow it anywhere on campus with some regulation.”

In regard to the hammocks, Loosley said students have been seen having sex in hammocks, noting the phenomena defined in the online Urban Dictionary as “hammocking.”

Cal Poly’s University Police Department hasn’t received any reports of sexual activity in hammocks, but that would be a violation of state law, Lazier said.

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