Swing's risks force removal

by Kaitlin Bell | 8/6/03 5:00am

For the third time in three years, authorities have decided to cut down the rope swing hanging over the Connecticut River. The move was prompted by the College's desire to reduce insurance liability risks and prevent injuries.

However, in an effort to preserve the 95-foot pine tree the swing hangs from, a group of students preemptively removed the rope yesterday morning.

The current swing was designed and constructed on College land by a group of students in the fall of 2001 after Hanover town officials cut down its predecessor -- and the tree that held it -- several weeks before.

The previous swing was located on town property and was causing a plethora of noise complaints from frustrated residents, Town Manager Julia Griffin said at the time. Hanover authorities also feared potential lawsuits, since the town's insurance would not cover any injuries incurred from using the swing.

Nailed to the base of the tree holding the current swing was a sign that cautioned people not to use the swing while drunk, high or otherwise incapacitated. The sign also warned against jumping from the tree at night.

But College officials said that posting warnings is not enough to prevent injuries.

"The goal is to take down the swing so people don't get hurt," Senior Associate Dean Dan Nelson said. To his knowledge, he said, no students have been injured using the current swing, but he estimated that within the past decade five or six serious injuries occurred.

"Occasionally, someone will get tangled up when they're swinging and have dislocated arms or shoulders," he said. "People have been pretty seriously banged up."

According to students who put the swing in place, the device was designed by a group of engineering and architecture students who constructed it with 60 feet of airplane cable. The swing itself hung from a tree angled sharply over the river, while a second tree had nailed to it wooden steps leading to three platforms of varying heights from which to jump.

Although the College's decision has caused a stir among students, many of whom argued that they should be allowed to take risks if they so desire, the presence of a rope swing has long been a source of contention between students and College and town officials.

Before the previous swing and its host tree were dismantled in the summer of 2001, town authorities had removed another rope in the fall of 2000. At the time, they warned that any new swings constructed on the tree would result in the tree's removal.

Because the old tree had an extensive root system that held together soil on the river bank, the town was initially reluctant to touch the tree itself.

But by the following summer, students had put up a new rope -- and just weeks later, town officials held true to their threat and cut down the tree.

This time, some students worried that removing the current swing would only result in another one being constructed on a tree less well suited to swinging -- which could potentially result in worse injuries than ever, they said.

Students also lamented the loss of the rope swing as a traditional rite of passage for sophomore summer.

"The rope swing was a symbol of summer," Lidia Barabash '05 said.

But Dartmouth authorities said they are used to students' tenacity with regard to the swing. The College periodically takes down swings that appear on its property, Nelson said.

"Students have been building rope swings for years and the College has been taking them down -- it's just one of those things," he said.

As it is, the College is just relieved to have what it considers a formidable safety and financial risk taken care of -- at least for now.

"People have to understand that as much fun as these things are, they're actually quite dangerous, and there's a potential for liability," Dartmouth grounds supervisor Bob Thebodo said.