It's that time of year again - winter. This brings back all of the winter activities the public love, like winter hikes, skating or hockey and, of course, tobogganing. Families wander around their town looking for that perfect hill to climb, so they can set up their sled and speed to the bottom, and then do it all over again. Every municipality approaches tobogganing hills differently though. Some see toboggan hills as a liability, and discourage public use. Others see them as a way to get people using parks in the cold winter months and encourage the public to be creative in their use of open spaces.
Today, let’s take a look at this issue from both sides.
In the winter months, with fewer staff available to many municipalities, it can be nearly impossible to safely manage every potential toboggan hill, which is why some municipalities choose to ban the activity from public spaces. Municipalities that discourage tobogganing in public spaces do so to keep the public safe from potential risks, and reduce liability that falls on the municipality. Depending on the space, the public could be in danger of colliding with obstacles (such as park equipment, backstops, fences or trees) when speeding down their makeshift mountain. Municipalities aren’t wrong to worry about the safety of their public. According to a study by Columbus, between 1997 and 2007 over 20,000 children were treated in the emergency room for tobogganing related injuries each year (yikes!). When a serious injury occurs, the municipality in charge of this space is often found liable for the incident and are then in danger of lawsuits.
Municipalities that are thinking about banning this activity should assess all potential risks surrounding popular tobogganing locations, meet with a risk management organization, and create a policy explaining to the public why the activity has been banned. The municipality should also look into creating proper signage in parks, pointing out the risk involved in this activity. For some sample signage and policies, visit the OPA Members Resource Library.
If your municipality chooses not to ban tobogganing, how can you ensure patrons have a great time, and stay safe? Some groups assess the risks and find ways to remove them (e.g. removing or relocating benches, and backstops). If the risk cannot be removed (such as a light post), hay bales can be used to create an inexpensive barrier to stop tobogganers gently. Staff should inspect the park regularly to ensure the area is safe and use signage to communicate potential risks to the public.
So where do you stand? Will your municipality ban or embrace tobogganing this winter? Tell us in the comments what you will be doing to handle this issue!
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