Pioneer Park is Salt Lake City’s testing grounds. Long a trouble spot for drugs and crime, the park also has been the locale of two of downtown’s most successful experiments, the Farmers Market and Twilight Concerts.
It’s in that spirit that the city recently allowed a flying trapeze school to set up shop on the south side of the park. For anyone with two hours and $53, Utah Flying Trapeze will deliver enough training to give anyone a Flying Wallenda moment. They’ll also deliver a $5 "swing" on the trapeze on Saturday mornings to give Farmers Market visitors a taste of circus life.
So hand it to city officials for thinking outside the sandbox. Trapeze will never reach the popularity of the markets and concerts, but it’s one more thing to help Pioneer Park get a life beyond its hard-edged reputation.
Still, it’s reasonable to wonder where this is headed. The city’s public works director says Pioneer Park could benefit from more businesses and events, and that’s probably true. But that tack also brings new questions about who uses parks and who pays for parks.
Interestingly, this undertaking comes at a time when the city is considering closing golf courses. The golfers are quick to point out that they’re among the few recreationists in the city who are actually paying a fee while using city facilities. Can we now add trapeze students to the list of payers. Can we expect more pay-to-play endeavors in the parks?
Then there is the liability. Life in Pioneer Park can be dangerous, and that’s just for the people on the ground. What risk is the city assuming by allowing a trapeze school in a park?
The company is evidently well insured, as it should be, given that its business involves tossing people through the air. But legal history is rife with cases where property owners have faced liability exposure just for allowing a potentially dangerous activity on their land. One immense settlement could undo the benefits of thousands of individual fee payments.
Trapeze is a new sport in the city, but it’s not a new precedent. There are vendors offering tennis lessons on city-owned courts, and Seven Peaks Waterpark is a city-owned facility run by a private vendor. (It’s also another enterprise with significant liability risk.)
But the pressure to maintain golf courses and parks should never stop most park activity from being free. All residents should get to use their parks with the greatest of ease.
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