ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s illegal to swim in Ithaca gorges but the enforcement of swimming bans has usually been, frankly, incredibly Ithacan: police occasionally ticket rowdy, drunk young people and shoo off hundreds of sunbathers and casual swimmers.
But that nearly-laissez-faire attitude will likely coming to a screeching halt soon, especially if more funding is approved for the Gorge Ranger program Monday night by the town of Ithaca. But nearby residents are not taking the hit to summer fun without some kind of a fight.
An online petition started last week by has almost 200 signatures Monday morning and aims to show law makers that local residents, while concerned about public safety, don’t think banning access to gorges is the right solution to increase public safety.
“I grew up on Six Mile Creek Gorge. The first place I learned to swim was Six Mile Creek Gorge,” said city of Ithaca resident Jeremy Veverka.
The new plan to crackdown on swimming in gorge areas requires funding from Tompkins County, the town of Ithaca and the city of Ithaca. The county legislature approved $7,500 worth of funding for more money toward the Gorge Ranger program and the town is expected to do the same Monday. The funds will match the $15,000 already budget for the program by the city of Ithaca, in addition to body cameras for gorge rangers.
There were 120 reported events and 1,498 reported infractions in the Six Mile Creek Gorge area in 2015, resulting in neighborhood complaints about large and sometimes unruly crowds traversing through residential areas to and from the gorge areas.
“We’re getting very large crowds. Tompkins County Sheriff’s department has documented crowds of up to 250 swimmers at a time,” Ithaca City Clerk Julie Holcomb previously said. “There’s a copious amount of alcohol. There’s drug abuse going on up there. It’s a very different situation than what we’ve had in the past.”
Veverka said, however, that protesters are not disputing the need for public safety. They’re disputing the all-out crackdown of people in the gorge areas.
“We are not saying that we are against the gorge rangers or the town shouldn’t be concerned with public safety,” he said. But there are other ways to keep people safe.
For instance, ticketing people for partying — doing drugs, drinking, etc. — seems perfectly reasonable to him. So does cracking down on cliff jumpers.
Vevarka said banning cliff jumping is one of the major things officials can do to reduce injuries in the area.
He and other people have, anecdotally, observed over the years that cliff jumping is the cause of more injuries than swimming. An outreach program to inform out of towners about the dangers of cliff jumping and more adequate signage (Current signage doesn’t mention cliff jumping at all) could help reduce the number of emergency calls for service in the area, he said.
“People are going to swim in these spots,” he said, noting that a strictly enforced ban on swimming is not a practical use of law enforcement’s time or public money.
While protesters have not met with officials yet to discuss other ways to keep gorge areas safe, that could be in the works for a later date.
He said that the movement to lower or eliminate the punishment for swimmers in the gorges is relatively new, but determined. And the first step toward having a voice in how the gorges are monitored, he said, is showing up to public meetings and being heard.
He and a group of protesters are meeting around 4 p.m. Monday at Ithaca Town Hall, located at 215 N. Tioga St. The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. and public comment about the gorges is at 5:30 p.m.
Vevarka said he knows the funding will likely to be approved, but he hopes a large turnout of people will help officials know where the public stands on the issue.
Correction: The time of the meeting was originally incorrectly reported and has been updated.