To be productive, we need to learn from our past mistakes. Here are some of the past efforts and court cases to legalize/deregulate BASE jumping in National Parks. If you have other examples, corrections, or ideas on how to use these examples toward the deregulation of BASE jumping, please let us know with the contact button above.
CJAA - The Cliff Jumpers Association of America
This was an effort in the late 90's which had a fair bit of time and money thrown into it. Over time, they ran into more and more roadblocks with the National Parks Service, and as a result, many members became disillusioned by the lack of progress and the organization fizzled out.
ABP - The Alliance of Backcountry Parachutists
This short-lived effort started in the early 2000s and had a great deal of support. Representative Tom Tancredo even sent letters to the National Parks Service Leaders (see "Tancredo Letter" below). Unfortunately, conflicting opinions about the method of moving forward played a large part in the organization disbanding.
NorCalPAC - Northern California Para-Alpinist Club
Started sometime around early 2017, this club has made some efforts to push for legislation and legitimization of BASE jumping in Yosemite and other National Parks. Their Facebook page went quiet near the end of 2017 for unknown reasons.
Bridge Day Expansion
There was a brief agreement to expand jumping at the New River Gorge Bridge with three additional permits, for a total of four jumping days per year (one per quarter). There were a few problems, according to the organizer. First, the permission process was precarious. Six decision maker from the local level all the way up to the federal level were required to sign off for each permit, any one of which could make the event come to a screeching halt. Second, jumpers would have been required to purchase the landing area underneath the bridge. This quarter million dollar expenditure was excessive for something that could be stopped on the whim of a newly elected official or political appointee.
Rick Harrison tells a great story about BASE jumping from a train in 1983. He and friends planned a jump where they exited from the top of a moving train as it traveled over a 300' bridge and while they filmed it for TV. The second day, word leaked to the NPS who had jurisdiction over the river below. Rangers were waiting and cited everyone using the "Powerless Flight" statue, the charge used before Air Delivery became popular for prosecuting BASE jumpers. Being a lawyer, Rick wrote a Motion to Dismiss and said that the statute was vague. The courts agreed and dropped the case. You can read his full story in the link.
This case made it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1995, the defendants, a group which includes Mark Albers, were arrested for BASE jumping at Lake Powell, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and charged with Air Delivery and Disorderly Conduct. Though it went through the appeals process, the charges held. You can read the full case in the link.
In 1992, Ron Carroll, climbed the St Louis Arch and made a jump from the apex at dawn. He and his photographer were caught while trying to run to their getaway car. Ron was charged with Air Delivery, Climbing a Cultural Resource, Conspiracy to commit both acts, and Disorderly Conduct. His photographer was also charged with Conspiracy and Disorderly Conduct. Both were found guilty on all charges. This case was also used as legal precedence in United States v. Albers. You can read the full case in the link.
Stemming from the 1995 case, United States v. Albers, the defendants argued that modern BASE jumping parachutes are similar to non-powered aircraft, which are allowed, by statute. The court decided that this law conflicts with the Air Delivery statute, and felt that the laws were too ambiguous and thus, unenforceable. Upon the government's appeal, they argued semantics and the dismissal was reversed. You can read the full case in the link.
In the early 2000s Representative Tom Tancredo wrote a letter to the National Parks Service, on behalf of BASE jumpers and in cooperation with the Alliance of Backcountry Parachutists, proposing a process to allow BASE jumpers into the National Parks. The Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Parks Service responded with a four page letter on July 1st, 2004. It can be read in its entirety in the link above. While they rejected Representative Tancredo's and the ABP's proposal to regulate BASE jumping in a similar fashion as rock climbing, they did suggest that participation in the planning process that takes place in each park, with further info located in the Park Planning Guide. If the local superintendent thinks it is a worthwhile activity, they can apply for a policy waiver from the Director.
I have contacted my congress men and women and explained why I believe BASE jumping should be deregulated. I have yet to get anything but a boiler plate response. If you would like to contact your representatives, you can use the links below to find them. Please be professional in your communications.
Potential Model for Deregulation:
Step 1 - Park Identification
There are lots of parks with the vertical features needed to make successful BASE jumps. Analysis and a moderate amount of consensus is needed to determine what park would be the best to start with. Factors for consideration include:
Quality of the jump (height, ease of access, landing zone size, etc.)
Total visitorship/park congestion. Will jumpers create a "spectacle?"
Past enforcement. Is there bad blood?
Competing sports. i.e. climbers, hikers, etc. Are a limited number of people allowed in the backcountry? Black Canyon allows 15 inner-canyon permits per day.
Distance to emergency services.
Wildlife considerations. i.e. nesting birds, seasonal migrations, etc.
What is the park's purpose, significance, and other internal politics.
Does the park have a partnership? A "Friends Group" has a lot of influence over park dynamics.
What does the nearby community want? For smaller parks, jumpers may bring more money into the local community. The local chamber of commerce may be an ally.
Step 2 - Planning Cycle
Each National Park operates on a planning cycle. Depending on where a park is in its planning cycle, will determine the amount time available to put a proposal together. The NPS planning website has further info.
Each park will have its own style and schedule for detailed planning. An NPS employee I talked with said, "Utah's National Parks have a history of experimentation and may be more willing to test something out." Digging into the history of experimentation and past planning efforts would likely provide additional examples to work from, whether it's a Utah park or not.
Government agencies tend to put out a lot of documents to guide lower echelons to achieve somewhat similar processes across their sprawling organizations. This is true of the NPS, which publishes planning frameworks for individual parks, monuments, recreation area, etc. to plan more efficiently at lower levels. The 2020 National Parks Planning Catalog is the current framework. On page 95 the Visitor Use Management Plan describes how the park aligns visitor opportunities with the park's purpose while protecting resources and values. Examples included are trails, camping, motorized use, etc. BASE jumpers would need to take part in the discussion to show how BASE fits into a specific park's purpose, and how we will protect resources and value.
As a "freedom loving veteran," I would love to say that it's my right to jump off cliffs in any way I see fit. Unfortunately, that method hasn't worked for us so far. The Visitor Use Management Plan section says the time frame for a plan like this is, "2-3 years depending on project complexity and compliance needs." BASE jumping, that fits into the park's overall visitor plan, won't take 3 years in and of itself, but we should be aware that bureaucracies take a lot of time to get things done. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Step 3 - Jump Guidelines
This is a tricky area. Site naming to outsiders is typically frowned upon in the BASE community. When experienced jumpers sit down with NPS officials, site specific discussions will need to happen. Jumpers will need to be open with sites and safety measures. They will be talking with people that likely have no idea how BASE jumping works and will need to explain the basics kindly and professionally. For the most part, the media has not been a friend to the jumping community; most of the time, the coverage consists of accidents and illegal jumps. Emphasis should be placed on safety considerations, jump planning (done by jumpers), the low impact of the sport, the increased safety by having legal sites, the park savings on enforcement/prosecution, etc.
The park will probably have natural resources that need to be protected like raptor nesting sites, animal migration routes, sensitive plant life (i.e. cryptobiotic soil in the Utah desert), etc. There may be requirements like search and rescue insurance, or permit fees. They may want to be very restrictive with date windows for jumping, specific hours, etc.
For example, hang gliding is allowed, with a special use permit, in Yosemite from May 1st to October 1st, from 7 - 9:30 am with a maximum of 16 flights per day. The exit is Glacier Point, the landing area is Leidig Meadow. The question this raises is, if a legal site is established with similar restrictions, will jumpers abide by the policy? Will too many people break the rules resulting not only in the site being closed, but rangers also having a lot more information about how we jump?
Step 4 - Jumper Communication
This step would need to occur at the same time as step 3. With the long planning horizon, the message would need to go out to the BASE community about the work being conducted with the NPS and the plans to open legal sites. Ideally, jumpers would refrain from bandit jumps in a park where deregulation talks are being conducted. This isn't realistic. Some jumpers like the "ninja" side of the sport, others may be visiting and have no idea.
At the outset, expectations with the park would be important. The BASE side would need to show the NPS that we have put the message out and want cooperation but we don't want these talks derailed by someone getting busted in the middle of everything. Would the NPS understand that a bust in the middle of deregulation talks doesn't represent the whole community?
Comparing BASE jumping to the early days of climbing might be beneficial. Early climbers broke a lot of rules in National Parks and had many run-ins with rangers. Very similar to BASE today. These days, the climbing community is unregulated in some parks, in others, permits are issued. With a vision for long term changes, BASE could be (un)regulated in a similar way.
Step 5 - Implementation
Once the NPS agrees to a test case, permit implementation, or another plan, the message needs to go out to the community. This will be a fragile moment in the process. Just like the early 80's test case in Yosemite, flagrant abuse of the rules got it shut down. To be fair, getting BASE shut down was the goal of the Yosemite superintendent at the time. Hopefully, a test case can be done in good faith by both sides, this time. A dedicated website, social media, NPS publications, etc. could all be used to get the word out about a park being opened.
Step 6 - Long Term
If a park is on the restrictive side, how do we get jumpers to not screw it up? If some of the big names, FJCs, etc. were to push ethics at legal sites, it would be a good step. If a park starts out restrictive, proposing a tiered plan for less restrictions may give jumpers hope for more access. Less busts, increased safety, and positive publicity would contribute to unlocking more exit points and additional parks.