ITHACA, NY – It seemed that everyone was prepped for controversy and confrontation over the swimming ban at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting.

Multiple camera crews crowded into the council chambers, along with about 30 citizens. Many of them had just been protesting outside before the meeting and came to speak about the swimming ban or support other speakers.

The proposed change would add the following language to the city’s municipal code: “Wading, bathing, floating, jumping, swimming or otherwise entering the water of any natural area located within or owned by the City of Ithaca shall constitute Trespass. Entering the water for fishing purposes is exempt from this provision.”

Many made heartfelt speeches about swimming in the gorges during their childhoods and wanting to pass that onto their children, or how enjoying the gorges is something that is ingrained in our culture.

Scott Miller, of Ithaca, spoke about how exploring the gorges was like exploring Tolkein’s Middle Earth for him and his son. “Don’t ban the mythology of my sons youth,” he implored.

Others took a more practical approach, arguing that the existing laws were sufficient to curb the main unwanted behaviors — namely cliff jumping, drinking and drugs and disrupting the natural areas with litter.

Rather than confrontation, by the end of the discussions on the topic it seemed that the protesters and Common Council came to a friendly understanding: no one really wants to ban swimming, but something must be done about those negative behaviors.

For now, the proposed language change will not be going forward.

Instead, Mayor Myrick spoke about appointing a task force to find alternative solutions to the issue. The task force will likely spend a month or two drafting a new plan, which will be passed on to the City Administration Committee before coming back to council.

Photo by Sam Scott

Focusing on the real problem

As soon as the public comment period ended and the council began discussing the issue, it was clear that most of the council members were on the same page with the people speaking out against the ban.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock received an energetic applause when she called swimming in natural areas a “fundamental right.”

Alderperson George McGonigal also got a positive response when he urged people who are invested in swimming in the gorges to also do their part to help keep the areas clean and safe.

In response, Logan Bell, one of the protest organizers, held up a garbage bag and said that he always does.

The general consensus among those on the council and some of the public that came out to speak was this: most people have no interest in an outright swimming ban, but cliff jumping, disruptive parties and littering are still major issues.

Many of the protesters agreed on this — one held a signs saying “Cliff Jumping Kills.”

As The Voice reported before, the new legislation was primarily aimed at enforcement of those edge cases.

Now the challenge for the new task force will be to come up with a solution that effectively targets the negative behaviors without catching the swimmers who treat our natural areas with respect in the crosshairs.

Photo by Sam Scott

Featured photo by Sam Scott

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.