ITHACA, NY – On Wednesday, Ithaca’s Common Council will discuss and potentially vote on expanding the language of an ordinance, making it illegal to swim in the city’s natural areas — namely Six Mile Creek.

Some residents are planning a protest before the Common Council meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday. The protest is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in front of City Hall.

While the city’s efforts have been primarily focused on curbing dangerous or disruptive behavior in the gorges, many residents have been critical of the city’s attempts to legislate swimming in these areas.

City Clerk Julie Holcomb, who has been heading up the effort, said last month that she felt she had “become public enemy number one in the last 24 hours” after suggesting the change.

Opponents of the ban believe that swimming in the gorges is a natural and acceptable past-time, when done responsibly. Unfortunately, not everyone is responsible and some groups have littered in the natural areas, disrupted nearby neighborhoods, and engaged in dangerous activities and have needed rescue, which costs the city resources.

This protest is being organized by the same group that protested the Town of Ithaca committing more funding to the city’s Gorge Ranger program back in May. Despite the protests, the Ithaca Town Board voted unanimously in support of a $7,500 contribution to the program.

As The Voice covered last month, the issue isn’t quite as simple as it looks on its face. The city technically already has an ordinance that prevents swimming on waters in the city.

According to Holcomb, the proposed changes are meant to clarify the rules — in part since the areas where people like to swim are city-owned but not within city limits, and in part because the current laws have been proven to be difficult to actually enforce.

Currently, Gorge Rangers will ask people to leave if they are swimming in a forbidden area. Most people comply, and tickets are only issued on the rare occasions when someone does not. In theory, things should not change much for people who don’t cause trouble.

“I don’t think this will end up targeting the more normal behavior,” Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff said when discussing the issue last month.

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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.