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DeVol sledding sparks dilemma

November 27, 2013

COLUMBIA CITY — With the recent decision by the Columbia City Parks Board to ban sledding at DeVol Field, many Whitley County natives have strong opinions on the topic — particularly on social media websites.

In light of a new fence on a familiar sledding hill, Columbia City Attorney Marcia McNagny cautioned local officials on the potential liability of leaving the park open for sledding this winter. After much discussion, the Columbia City Park Board determined on a 3-2 vote to forbid sledding at DeVol Field, due to safety concerns.

Since the decision, there have been many discussions on social media sites about the topic — some for, but many against it.

“They were between a rock and a hard place — liability and nostalgia,” Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel told the City Council Tuesday night.

“People on our Park Board have children and grandchildren. Many of them have also sled on that hill. They care deeply for our community and are trying to look out for the best interests of everyone.”

Daniel said Park Director Mark Green has spoken with several of the board members about a possible public hearing, and officials are currently working out a date for a meeting, coordinating around holiday schedules.

Daniel said if there is a public meeting, the city plans to make it at a convenient time, so residents are able to attend.

“We will try to make it an opportune time for individuals to come out and voice their opinions in a respectful manner,” Daniel said. “So far, what we’ve experienced is the population on Facebook. They’re clearly making their voices known. But we need to keep in mind, a large portion of our community is not on Facebook. We want to hear everyone’s voice.”
The Park Board doesn’t have the final say in the situation, though.

Columbia City’s Common Council has the power to overrule the board’s decision, if they choose.

If the Park Board moves forward with the sledding ban, officials said the board would propose the City Council make an ordinance to that affect in order for police to enforce the rule.

If an ordinance is passed, police would have the authority to issue tickets to people who disobey. The topic was brought up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and the council said it was open to exploring all the options.

“I believe something can be worked out,” said Councilman Dan Weigold. “We need to settle down and look at all the options.”

While some have argued that other activities pose a potential for lawsuits, Daniel said this situation is different. With sporting events at the park, parents sign a waiver before their child is allowed to play. At the city’s pool, there are trained lifeguards to stop reckless behavior.

“This situation is very different,” Daniel said. “We to have a way to sign waivers for sledding. We don’t have the funding to pay someone to sit on the hill throughout the winter months to make sure things are safe and secure.”

With the city being sued on a weekly basis, mostly tort cases, officials made the initial decision to protect the city’s funds — as a potential lawsuit could cost millions. Daniel said officials are brainstorming for a safe place for children to sled.

“Hopefully we can find a good common ground,” Daniel said. “I think the main point it, the people who made this decision don’t hate kids. It is a difficult decision.”

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