What ever happened to “the land of the free and home of the brave?”
What we desire is not unfathomable. It’s not unreasonable. We simply seek to practice our interpretation of recreating in the outdoors and an enjoyment of beautiful terrain from a perspective naturally shared only by birds.
BASE jumping has been not only prohibited, but criminalized in National Parks since the 1980’s. This was largely due to a clash of the early pioneers of our often misunderstood sport and NPS regulations of an, at the time, unregulatable sport. To this day, we are held to the judgment of our immature past. The mistakes made from our community has let the National Park Service justify a uniform ban on anything parachutes within their territory based on a completely irrelevant law of “aerial delivery”. Aerial delivery was a regulatory law enacted in the 1960’s to prevent squatters and poachers from re-supplying via parachute drops in remote areas of parks. The fact that people have been tasered, jailed, and drowned for a wrongful interpretation of this law applying to BASE jumping is not only shocking, but a disappointing failure of our justice system.
Moab, Utah, is a place where BASE jumping legally takes place 24/7/365. It’s not uncommon to see one of us packing our canopies in the bright green grass park surrounded by walls of deep red sandstone. It’s an environment that is harsh to live due to a lack of water, but offers an amazing recreational opportunity for those that come prepared. For over two decades, BASE jumping has taken place amongst a large network of adventurous sports. From white water rafting, to rock climbing, and even off road jeeping, Moab has enough to keep the search and rescue teams busy year-round. It was this reality that inspired last year’s annual “Turkey Boogie” (a yearly gathering of BASE jumpers around the time of Thanksgiving) to help raise money for a contribution to those that selflessly help others when things don’t go as planned. Thousands of dollars were raised by events, raffles, and t-shirt sales, all directly benefitting the Grand County SAR. As a group that often gets demonized in the media we, as BASE jumpers, maintain very positive relationships with the local SAR and managing bodies of the surrounding BLM land. BLM managers have often been quoted in saying our community is the most responsible group of recreational users Moab sees. This has stemmed from the realization that we need to be more responsible than the average recreationalist due to our perceived reckless image media outlets often irresponsibly portray. From educating people about delicate cryptobiotic soil to picking up trash, we routinely try to help enjoy and protect what little legal opportunities we have to pursue our passion. In these decades of completely unregulated usage, we have had 3 fatalities in the Moab area and a very low SAR incident rate which has been in the neighborhood of 1-4 rescues per year. To put it in perspective, there have been 7 people killed in the Emerald Pools area of Zion National Park from accidentally falling. This past spring, 6 mountaineers were killed in one incident on Liberty Ridge in Rainier National Park. Hantavirus, a rodent-borne virus, killed 3 people in Yosemite. Although we are a much smaller community, we still have a consciousness to our impact on locals and minimize it as best as possible. For as many times as you see our canopies touch down safely, you will see us walking down in windy conditions.
Norway, Switzerland, France and Italy, are just some of the many other places where BASE jumping takes place on a minimally or non-regulated basis. These places often see quite positive benefits of added tourism dollars and jobs created specifically for catering to BASE jumpers. Fabio, the Italian owner of a shuttle company in Arco, Italy, makes his entire income off driving BASE jumpers up the road to start the hike to the exit point. The city of Twin Falls, Idaho has hotels and dining establishments that are heavily patronized by BASE jumpers due to the city’s close proximity to the Perrine Bridge, the only legal man made structure that is entirely legal and unregulated to BASE jumpers any day of the year. Although this list of places may make it seem as if BASE jumping has an abundance of locations, the sad reality is that most American jumpers have to spend thousands of dollars and travel extensively in order to do what they love. In our back yards we have some of the most amazing potential for world-class BASE jumping, yet we are forced to leave the very same massive granite walls behind our houses to take trains, planes, and automobiles to our more accepting European counterparts.
The future is promising. Logical discussions have opened up between jumpers and land managers and the efforts to fairly portray the calculated side of our sport are finally being noticed. As the sport gains more exposure, the radical facade will slowly be broken down to reveal who we really are: brothers, sisters, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, ski guides, parents, etc. We just happen to enjoy leaping from cliffs in a measure of how we challenge our irrational fear and try to use those challenges to gain as many positive experiences we can in this thing called life.