Summer’s Pendulum: Valley Rope Swings Are a Seasonal Cat-and-Mouse Game

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

Norwich — It’s time for annual summer rituals: boaters on lakes, families at fairgrounds, friends eating ice cream, concerts on greens.

Not to mention, of course, a tradition as sure as any other: teenagers building rope swings, and authorities cutting them down.

Workers from Dartmouth College gave the ax to four rope swings along the Connecticut River last week after an undergraduate student was hospitalized overnight with minor injuries related to a rope swing jump.

But while the student’s ill-fated swing prompted the dismantling, college spokesman Justin Anderson said the swings would have met their fate sooner or later, anyway. Dartmouth workers periodically inspect the Connecticut River for swings every summer.

“This is an annual thing,” he said. “The rope swings go up, and we cut them down.”

Gone for now are swings on two parcels of Dartmouth-affiliated properties in Hanover: behind both the CRREL parcel and the Rivercrest housing parcel on Route 10.

Also resting in pieces are swings formerly swung on both the Hanover and Norwich sides of Gilman Island. Dartmouth cut those down as a courtesy to the municipalities. (Trees are not altered during the process, Anderson said.)

Still dangling, though, is the swing at Patchen’s Point, located in Norwich a short walk across the railroad tracks from Route 5. Standing on the bank there yesterday, 19-year-old Lebanon resident Andrew Orfanidus said he was well aware of the area’s tradition of build ’em up, cut ’em down — or, from his point of view, vice versa.

“I’ve been rope-swinging for a long, long time, and they always get cut down and built back up again — it’s like a game, I guess,” Orfanidus said, shortly before he grabbed hold of a trapeze dangling from a nearby tree, pushing himself off the bank and back-flipping into the murky water below.

Nearby, Ashley DuBois, 17, looked to friend Justin Bennett: “Why can’t you do that?” she teased.

“This is just so entertaining, watching them,” said DuBois, one of about a dozen teenagers who filtered into Patchen’s Point during a half-hour yesterday afternoon.

DuBois added she hoped the swing at Patchen’s Point remained intact. Another friend, 17-year-old Kolina Willcox, agreed.

“I understand if someone gets hurt” that officials would want to cut down the swing, but jumpers who use the swing “take the risk going out on them,” Willcox said between jumps.

“And,” she added, “people love ’em.”

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said she understood the allure of rope swings — “I wish, I wish, I wish there were a place somewhere along the river where we could install a rope swing,” she said — but in “today’s age of litigiousness and liability, it’s tough to find a place that’s safe and viable.”

What’s more, Griffin said, is that rope swings in populated communities tend to attract late-night revelers who disturb the neighbors.

We don’t like the rope swings. And I always feel like Scrooge,” she joked.

Norwich Police Patrolman Mike Scruggs said that although his department is not involved in cutting down rope swings, they often send a patrol to Patchen’s Point when they notice a large number of cars in the parking lot to ensure it’s clean and safe.

One jumper misjudged the swing — “operator error,” Scruggs called it — and broke an ankle last year, he said.

He estimated jumpers experience a 10- to 15-foot drop between the rope’s high point and the fall to the water below. The depth of the river varies, sometimes dropping to as shallow as 3 or 4 feet in the landing area, he said.”

“They’re dangerous,” said Anderson, of Dartmouth, “and they pose a risk to anyone who swings on them inasmuch as it’s quite possible that there’s logs or some sort of debris that is floating in the river, just beneath the surface that’s not visible … it may not be what it appears to be. … The potential for injury exists all the time. We’re not interested in people doing this” during the day nor the night.

Corey Rousseau, another jumper at Patchen’s Point yesterday, said that although he’s disappointed every time a rope gets cut down, plenty of other swing spots exist in the Upper Valley.

Plus, he said, the rope swing reincarnation process has its perks.

“It definitely makes it different” when a rope is cut down and built back up in a different manner, he said. “So I guess it mixes it up.”

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