Fit to be tied? Hammock ban for Charleston parks back before council

Charleston City Council on Tuesday will vote on an amended ordinance that would prohibit anything being tied to trees on city property. That would prohibit hammocks from being tied to trees in city parks.

Just when hammock users were starting to rest easy, officials say they are going to renew their push for a ban in city parks.

Charleston City Council in April deferred the proposed ban to give staffers more time to study the impact of tying hammocks to trees, and possibly come up with alternatives.

City Councilman Aubry Alexander said the group’s Recreation Committee studied the matter, including talking to arborists from the city and Clemson University, and reviewing bans and policies in other locations. “It determined hammocks could cause long-term damage,” he said.

Council originally was considering a separate and new ordinance to ban hammocks, he said. But then officials realized they already had an ordinance that prohibited injuring trees. They amended it to prohibit tying anything to a tree on city property.

The group will take an initial vote on the amended ordinance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. If the ordinance is approved, people who violate it could face a maximum fine of $1,092 in Livability Court.

Daniel Burbage, the city’s arborist, has said that when hammocks and slacklines, which are similar to tight ropes, are repeatedly tied to tree trunks, they weaken and wear away the bark, which renders the trees susceptible to insect infestation and disease. He also has said that when hammocks are tied to large tree limbs, such as the horizontal branches of live oaks, they can weaken and crack.

But Ben Toy, founder of On Purpose Adventures, said he has spent more than 200 nights in a hammock tied to trees, and he never has caused any damage to the bark.

He thinks the city is being disingenuous about its reasons for putting the ban in place. “I don’t understand how they can complete a study in just a few weeks,” Toy said. “I don’t think it’s an environmental issue. I think it’s a political one.”

Toy said the ban is motivated by people in positions of power who simply don’t like to see people lying around in hammocks.

The city of Charleston isn’t alone in considering a hammock ban. Dozens of university campuses, national parks and other public places nationwide have outlawed hammocks, citing the threat they pose to trees.

People already can’t tie a hammock to tree in county parks and in the day-time use areas of state parks. So if the ban in city parks ultimately is approved, it’s not going to be easy to string one up in public.

Tom O’Rourke, executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, said the commission doesn’t have a policy on tying hammocks or slacklines to trees. But he has never heard of anybody trying to do that in a county park, he said. But if someone did, staffers would ask him or her to take it down.

County parks are different from city parks, he said. They are bigger and more wild with alligators, rattlesnakes and black widow spiders living in them.

The commission, however, has set up a slackline park at James Island County Park, he said, but the lines are connected to poles, not trees.

Dawn Dawson-House, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said hammocks are allowed in campgrounds in state parks but not in areas used only during the day, such as picnic areas.

But that could change, she said. “We’re evaluating that because it has been a growing trend.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.