Iconic Utah arch could soon close to rope swinging

SALT LAKE CITY — One of southern Utah’s signature towering arches could soon be closed to rope-swinging and other daredevil activities.

Federal officials are considering outlawing the swinging made so popular on YouTube that state authorities banned it from commercial outfitters last year. They cite frustration from Corona Arch visitors who have said they came to marvel at a natural wonder, not an extreme-sports arena.

The swinging stunt involves taking a running leap and swinging like a pendulum through five-story structures.

“Do we look down on folks who do this activity? No, of course not,” said Rock Smith, supervisory outdoor recreation planner at the federal Bureau of Land Management in Moab. “It’s a matter of is it appropriate or not” on lands designated for hiking. “The other side is: We know people like to swing, and we’re not stopping that everywhere, either.”

About 40,000 hikers trek to the sandstone structure each year, and many see it just once, federal officials estimate. Many complain about daredevil howls piercing the desert air.

The plans come amid a recent change in ownership. Last month, the agency gained control of the area in a land swap that gave the state rights to oil-rich lands in eastern Utah.

A sign at the trailhead to the 100-foot arch tells thrill-seekers that they may swing at their own peril, surrounded by “sheer drops all around,” reported the Salt Lake Tribune. It continues: “There is high potential for serious injury or death even if your equipment works.”

The agency is considering similar policies at the smaller Bowtie Arch and on 10 acres surrounding nearby Gemini Bridges. They would bar activities there such as rappelling, zip-lining, slack-lining and high-lining, which includes balancing on a taut rope.

“Pendulum” swinging is a relatively new form of recreation in Utah’s canyon lands, which log injuries and deaths from rock climbing and BASE jumping, which involves leaping from a ledge with a parachute.

Last year, 22-year-old Kyle Lee Stocking of West Jordan died after leaving too much slack in his rope.

Last month, a 25-year-old New Yorker made a near-deadly miscalculation, according to the Grand County sheriff’s office, which has not released his name. He is recovering in a long-term care facility from critical injuries and was not wearing a helmet on May 4, when he crashed 70 feet below.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Moab has begun surveying the area, the first step in imposing a new rule.

In recent years, viral videos have given rise to the wild swinging from ropes through arches and canyons. One 2012 video titled “World’s Largest Rope Swing” has racked up more than 23 million views on YouTube.

Since the mid-1990’s, Moab has seen an “explosion” in extreme-sports adventurers, rendering it “Disney Land-esque,” said Evan Howes, a Moab-based climbing guide.

“I don’t envy the position the BLM is in,” he said. “They’re trying to preserve the experience for some people, and that means limiting it for others.”

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