Slackliners asked not to use campus trees for sport

Senior Marcello Molinaro and sophomore Emilio Esparza walk toward each other on a slackline on Parrington Lawn. The UW Grounds Department has recently asked students to stop slacklining due to concerns about damaging the trees. Photo by Kristian Randall

When the weather’s nice, it’s not unusual to see students on campus slacklining — a balance sport, in which people walk or balance on a one-inch wide tubular climbing cord. Often, on the UW campus, slackliners will use trees in the Quad to extend their cord between.

However, the activity may not be welcome anymore.

Although students have participated in the activity on campus for years, the UW Grounds Maintenance Department has decided to ask students not to slackline between trees as a conservation effort.

Clarence Geyen, supervisor of UW Grounds Maintenance, said that the UW grounds workers are supposed to ask the slackliners to stop and that he has involved UWPD in asking people to cease using the trees.

“Most of the kids have been very cooperative and conscientious not to damage trees,” he said. “They’ll protect the bark from the rope.”

Sophomore Emilio Esparza has slacklined by Parrington Hall with his friends and says he protects the bark from being ripped up.

“We usually use either some cardboard or some towels,” Esparza said. “I’ve never been asked to stop, but I have heard of other people being asked to stop.”

Esparza said he started slacklining when he saw other people doing it on campus.

“It looked like fun, so I thought I’d try,” he said.

Sara Shores, a UW arborist, said the damage from ropes affects the trees beneath the bark if there isn’t padding under the rope.

“Right underneath the bark is where the tree intakes all of its nutrients, so it could potentially girdle the tree,” Shores said. “[However], if done correctly, it shouldn’t damage the trees.”

Geyen said that it’s not the activity of slacklining but the use of trees that he has a problem with. He said that wrapping the trees to protect the bark removes visible damage, but does not stop the activity from damaging the roots of the trees.

“I’ve suggested that as a group they get together and construct something that they can use other than the trees,” Geyen said. “It’s easier for me to say no to [the people slacklining] than to answer why there are dead trees.”

The city of Seattle has recently found the need to create a slacklining policy after The Stranger reported that a man was asked to stop slacklining by a security official in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park who said it was illegal to do so.

Dewey Potter, a spokesperson for Seattle Parks and Recreation, said that because slacklining is a newer sport, the department is in the process of drafting guidelines for safe — and environmentally conscious — slacklining in the city’s parks.

Potter said Seattle’s policy will include “common sense” precautions, such as not stringing one’s line across pathways, being considerate of other people in the park, and not leaving one’s line up when it’s not in use.

Seattle Parks and Recreation considers slacklining an emerging sport — there’s already a Northwest Slackline website that contains information about slacklining technique and a Facebook group for slackliners to find each other and enjoy the activity as a group.

“I think most people are respectful, but I think the more popular the sport becomes, the more people are going to want to do it,” Shores said. “Then there’s the chance that someone who won’t know what they’re doing will do it incorrectly.”

Shores said that sometimes she sees people using smaller trees to slackline and that larger trees would be better for the activity. She said a permanent structure for slacklining, like Geyen suggested, would be better than using the trees.

“The reason for the trees is for us to enjoy them, so it’s great to see people enjoying them, but it’s also important to keep them healthy,” Shores said. “There has to be that balance.”

Reach reporter Sarah Schweppe at news@dailyuw.com.

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