Healthy trees worth hammock ban

College of Charleston students enjoy a warm, sunny day at White Point Garden in downtown Charleston. (Leroy Burnell/File)

Charleston wants people to hang out in city parks, just as long as they aren’t hanging in a hammock. That’s the gist of a new ordinance given initial approval by City Council this month that would ban hammocks from the city’s public parks, recreational facilities and playgrounds.

Apparently, hammock-hangers seeking peace and quiet in Charleston’s green spaces could be imperiling the very nature they are trying to enjoy.

According to city officials, portable hammocks can harm trees when the straps used to attach them wear down the bark or bend trunks. Damaged bark leaves trees susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

That may come as a surprise to owners of new trendy, lightweight hammocks marketed as a go-anywhere and eco-friendly way to kick back and relax. Many such hammocks even come with wide straps explicitly designed to help prevent damage to tree trunks.

Some arborists say that isn’t enough.

And Charleston parks are hardly alone in nixing napping between two trees. Dozens of university campuses, national parks and other public places nationwide have outlawed hammocks, citing the threat they pose to arboreal denizens.

Their concern is understandable.

Healthy trees lend beauty and color to the city’s parks, offer refuge for wildlife and provide merciful shade in hot Lowcountry summers. Some of the grandest trees have been around almost as long as the city itself. That’s worth protecting.

Of course, eighteenth century city officials don’t seem to have complained when pirates were hanged at White Point Garden and left dangling there, according to local lore. But public pirate executions thankfully ended a long time ago.

Now the only marauders menacing White Point Garden’s shady oasis or Hampton Park’s leafy landscape are hammock-wielding youths looking for a shady spot to read a book or take a nap — which is admittedly a pretty nice way to spend the afternoon.

Indeed, the city might consider setting up designated hammock areas as a compromise to encourage more responsible recreation. Sturdy posts or functional sculptures could serve as steadier — and potentially more attractive — substitutes for delicate flora.

If City Council eventually decides to adopt the ban, plenty of hammock users will undoubtedly feel let down in more ways than one. But surely everyone can agree that trees are worth defending, even at the price of a little rest and relaxation.