CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Sarah Bonham and her friends have
jumped off 40-foot-high sandstone cliffs into Summersville Lake
countless times during camping trips and church youth functions.
To many teenagers, it's a summertime rite as common as tanning
As of Friday, it's no longer allowed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Huntington District announced
the diving ban from cliffs at 19 lakes in southern West Virginia
and surrounding states.
"I think it's disappointing," said Bonham, 19, of Cross Lanes.
"People can get hurt by anything. As long as you're smart about it
and you're a strong swimmer and use common sense, it should be
But the Corps considers it risky behavior, noting that since
1993, 69 people have died in water-related accidents in the
district, including seven last year.
Failing to heed the ban in parts of West Virginia, Kentucky,
Ohio and Virginia could result in penalties of up to $5,000 and
unspecified prison time upon conviction.
"This is not an activity that is going to be encouraged and
allowed on corps property," said Huntington district spokeswoman
The move comes on the heels of a 2006 corps ban around the
country on kite tubing - inflatable devices designed to become
airborne when pulled behind high-speed boats.
But the ban might leave some wiggle room as to what actually
constitutes a cliff.
"Jumping off a little flat rock is one thing," Noel said.
"Jumping off something high ... The water may appear to be deep,
but there could be trees. There could be jagged rocks. There could
be man-made trash in that part of the lake. You just don't know
what you're diving into."
In June 2002, two West Virginia men drowned in separate
incidents after diving off cliffs at Kentucky's Grayson Lake.
The West Virginia lakes are Beech Fork, Bluestone, Burnsville,
East Lynn, R.D. Bailey, Summersville and Sutton.
Besides Grayson, other lakes in Kentucky are Dewey, Fishtrap,
Paintsville and Yatesville. The Ohio lakes are Alum Creek, Deer
Creek, Delaware, Dillon, the North Branch of Kokosing River Lake,
and Paint Creek. The lone Virginia lake involved is John W.
However, the National Park Service this year banned cliff diving
and rope swings in Missouri's Ozark National Scenic Riverways in an
effort to cut down on rowdy behavior.
And in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma, the
corps has blocked access to the highest cliff at Lake Tenkiller,
where several deaths have occurred. Access to a shorter cliff is
not restricted, said Lt. Randy Smith, an Oklahoma State Park
No other corps districts in the country have similar
cliff-diving bans, said David Hewitt, a corps spokesman in
Noel said the ban was not motivated by an August 1999 incident
on the Ohio River. Last July, a federal judge in Huntington ordered
the Corps to pay $811,000 for medical expenses, lost wages, and
pain and suffering to four women who were injured after their jet
skis fell 23 feet over the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam near
Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va.
The plaintiffs did not know they were in an area designated by
the corps as restricted, and signs placed around the dam were not
positioned to catch a boater's attention to warn of the dam's
danger, according to the ruling.
Signs will be posted in the Huntington district on the dangers
of cliff diving and advising swimmers of the ban, Noel said.
Additional patrols in some areas will help enforce the ban.
"This is a much-needed law," said Sgt. Dave Wallen, district
supervisor of Kentucky's Department of Parks' ranger division. "I
think once after a few people have to go to court and pay a hefty
fine, I think the word will spread pretty quick that we're not
going to put up with it."
Still, "I don't think it's going to keep everybody from doing
it," Bonham said. "It may make people think about (not) doing
And eventually Bonham believes the ban may have an undesired
effect at Summersville Lake.
"It's where people always go to jump off the rocks, so they're
going to lose a lot of business," she said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)