Jump at your own risk.
That is the decision the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen came to last Thursday when it was deciding if it should let the popular recreational activity of jumping off the KVR Bridge in Okanagan Falls continue.
At the July 4 meeting, the board supported Okanagan Falls regional director Ron Obirek and reversed the decision made by district staff prohibiting jumping and diving at the bridge. District staff had also suggested to remove the chain link fence gate, the aluminum ladders and redesign the railing so the top cap is peaked and not sloped to further discourage the community from using it to jump.
On Thursday, Obirek opposed the suggestions because he said there is no real history of people seriously injuring themselves while jumping off the bridge. He said the staff changes proposed at the meeting were going to make the bridge more dangerous—not safer.
“If we had a behaviour of over 50 years of jumping and no injuries, what’s the real risk? Well, the real risk is very small. Do we have insurance? Yes, we do. Is someone going to get hurt? I don’t know. Do we want them to play safe? Yes, we do. So how do we encourage them to play safe? We put up some cautionary signage and we try to make it as safe as we can,” said Obirek.
“But to get mean and say, ‘We’re going to take away the gate and make the railing more treacherous and remove the ladders,’ all as a way to discourage the jumping, when we know it’s not going to discourage the jumping. What we’re really doing is making it much less safe.”
Bridge jumping at the popular location turned controversial in recent months after RDOS staff put up signs prohibiting people from using the bridge. This came after Risk Management Services concluded that RDOS could be liable if an accident occurred.
Jumping off the KVR trestle into Skaha Lake in Okanagan Falls has been a popular summer activity for residents and visitors for decades. It became so popular that at one point the community installed a gate and ladder to allow access to the lake.
In May, after receiving numerous complaints from the public about the lack of access to the bridge, the Okanagan Falls Parks and Recreation Commission suggested that people be allowed to continue to jump off at their own risk and that the ladders are upgraded and a proper self-closing gate be installed. This was the arrangement the RDOS board chose to adopt last week.
“It’s certainly safer than what was proposed (by the staff),” said Obirek. “The community felt disrespected and not consulted and their experience and knowledge not respected. It’s almost insulting to say to community members who have grandchildren who are jumping in the water—these aren’t people who are putting children’s lives in danger. It sounds like somebody far away in a different city knows better than the local community knows about their own participation in a recreation activity,” Obirek said.