Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent to the Ithaca Voice after we published a story earlier this week, “Illegal nighttime parties at Ithaca gorges now drawing hundreds.”

The letter is being published under a pseudonym to protect the identify of its author, who asked for anonymity to speak freely about sensitive issues.

To submit a guest column, contact me today at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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Downtown Ithaca Bingo
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ITHACA, N.Y. — My son was off visiting a friend on Sunday, so my husband and I took the opportunity to walk down to Second Dam to try to understand the swimming and jumping a bit better.

It was a lovely day, sunny, warm, not hot, pretty breezy.  There were about 8 cars parked on Towerview in the mid-afternoon (about 3:30 p.m. or so), but judging from some empty spots we saw, some cars had already left.

According to our counting, there were at least 130 people there, most of them on our side (the east side) of the gorge, and about a dozen people in the water.  There was a lot of jumping from the highest spot going on when we arrived.

The spectators whooped it up for the more dramatic of the jumps. There are low rocks that you can sit on and dangle your legs in the water at the downstream end of the reservoir, but from there, the terrain rises steeply on both sides, toward the north (downstream direction).

Someone uses a rope swing to jump into the gorge below. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAJ77K8Pl6A&feature=player_embedded

So if a person wants to jump from a high spot, he has to climb a steep dirt hill, which is tricky because it has a lot of loose pebbles and rock fragments, and not much in the way of roots or branches to hold on to.

Then he jumps, swims over to the low rocky ledge, climbs out, and perhaps picks his way up the dirt slope to do it again.  I found the slope with the loose bits of rock challenging, but the young people managed it more easily.  There are several other places people use as jumping-off points, of various different heights.

The rope swing is on the west side of the gorge; a little bit more to the north is the dam itself.  People swing out and then let go and drop down. Some jumpers did not use the rope, but took a running start and then jumped off the cliff.

We saw some swimmers scale the almost perpendicular rock wall.  This is unsafe, damaging to the gorge, and illegal.

We saw several people sitting or standing on the top of the dam, which seems to be a simple vertical wall. All the jumping occurs on the upstream side of the dam.

We saw some trash, but not a huge amount.  I heard a slightly older man with two off-leash dogs going around exhorting people to take their trash out with them.  He told them he had recently gone through the area picking up a whole lot of broken glass.

At first I thought I should be discreet with the camera, but people were taking pictures of their friends doing epic jumps, so it didn’t seem to matter.

I talked to some of the people there.  Here are some of the more interesting things I heard or observed:

— One person said he was from Endicott, several from Binghamton, one from Norwich.  Several told me this was their first time, and they had found out about the spot from a friend.

— I asked a young man what time people would be heading home, and he said they would be there all night.

I said, “This doesn’t seem like a very comfortable place to sleep,” and he explained that soon the music would start, people would take Molly (Ecstasy), and then they would dance all night.

— Another person also told me they would be there all night.

There was a large black speaker already there when we arrived, and a very heavy yellow generator was brought in.

— I could smell marijuana in some places, and when I was photographing some trash in the low area, by some bushes, I got a strong smell of urine.

— People were mostly relaxing and taking it easy, unless they were jumping, which clearly gave them a big thrill — like people get from skiing.

Only one person was what you could call rude to me.  I asked a couple of people if they were aware that two people had died in that spot; no one was.

— On the way back up the hill, we ran into a young woman who was rushing down the hill to warn people that the police were starting to tow cars that had been “stupidly” parked on 79.

— As we were leaving, it was getting cooler out, and the jumping had tapered off.  People were getting ready to start the music.  Some people were heading home, while others were just arriving.

— When we got up to 79, we saw from a slight distance that a sheriff’s car was ticketing some cars. We found more cars parked on Towerview on our way home than we had seen earlier.

We saw empty cans in the ditch on Towerview.

Conclusions from the trip

I am now convinced that it is unsafe for the sheriff’s department to arrest or ticket anyone for anything at the dam, given the topography and the volume of people, and the most I can ask them to do is to clear out the area.

But if they do that consistently on fine weekend days, and occasional weekdays, my hope is that the visitors will figure out that Second Dam, as a party destination, is history.

I propose to use parked cars on Towerview, near 79, as a way of detecting that large numbers of people are visiting Second Dam.  I propose to call 911 on a regular basis to report illegal activities at Second Dam, to trigger law enforcement to go to the dam to clear out the visitors.  In other words, observing what’s happening on Towerview can save me having to go all the way to the Dam every time.

See related: Frustrated gorge rangers say they have responsibility, but not authority, to protect swimmers

If others in Grandview are interested in doing the same, I would invite you to notify the google group when you call 911, so others will know that the call has already been made.

The situation that I found at Second Dam is clearly worse even than the “Jungle” behind Agway, in the City of Ithaca, ever was.

I cannot stand by and do nothing about it.  I think that Towerview parking and its concomitant social problems will resolve when it is made clear that the Town will not condone Second Dam being used as a major party destination for Central New York and the Southern Tier.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.