Hay Bales Removed from Utah State U. Sledding Hill for Safety

By By U Wire

By U Wire

LOGAN?Utah State University student Janessa Slatky wasn’t sure if her car was going to stop on the icy road when she saw an 8-year old boy fly down Old Main Hill, bump across the frozen gravel and land in a front yard across the street.

Last year, the sledder would have hit a rock-hard bale of frozen straw.

With the disappearance of the straw bales from the bottom of Old Main Hill, sledders are forced to take responsibility for their own actions, USU landscape manager Ellen Newell said.

“Person after person would sail down that hill and hit that concrete wall,” Craig Simper, member of the university counsel said. “[Not having bales] forces you to think about the options and the consequences.”

The decision to remove the bales?the first time USU has gone without some sort of safety precaution for sledders in decades?did not come easy.

“We just went around and round,” Newell said. “No one could come up with a decision.”

From a legal standpoint, USU was beginning to look toward the possibly of liability from the school-sponsored bales, Simper said.

“This is a case of darned if you do, darned if you don’t,” he said.

Although Simper said no one has held USU responsible for injuries caused by the bales, he said some of the accidents were getting bad enough to make the university nervous about potential liability.

He said USU has posted signs on the hill, warning people that they use the hill at their own risk, but then they put up the bales.

“By saying people should sled at their own risk and then putting up bales was saying [USU] was taking responsibility,” Simper said. “People were led into the false assumption that these were soft bales of straw.”

In addition to the threat of hitting a frozen wall, Newell said snowboarders were taking the bales apart to make jumps, leaving metal wires poking out.

Steve Mecham, USU police chief, reported seven people were injured while sledding on Old Main Hill last year, four of which were caused by hitting the straw bales.

“When the water freezes, hitting those bales is like hitting concrete,” Mecham said.

The injuries caused by the bales ranged from broken bones and head injuries to scratches and bruises.

“Last year was an exceptional year [for accidents],” Mecham said. “And some thought the bales were there to stop them.”

Although the 2000-2001 sledding season may have been a hazardous one, past years have actually reported fewer accidents on Old Main Hill than this year, without the bales.

Most parents who bring their kids to play on the hill say they’d act no differently if the bales were still set up. Natalie Wilcox, a parent of a 6- and 4 year-old, took her daughters sledding on Old Main Hill for the first time Saturday. Her daughter’s first attempt down the hill shocked her.

“I had no idea she was going to keep on going,” Wilcox said.

Even though her daughter’s first run sent the inner tube nearly into the road, Wilcox said she’s much more comfortable being responsible for her children than depending on a straw bale.