Legality of Slacklining in Seattle…


I am attempting to work with Parks & Rec to come to a mutually beneficial access policy.  As I’ve stated below slacklining in Seattle is totally legal (when done responsibly).

That said, it seems a very few employees of the Parks dept may see things another way, and it would be nice to have an official policy so that every P&R employee (and ranger) knows what we’re doing is explicitly approved when done in a certain way (tree padding, etc).  If there is resistance because of potential tree damage, the Seattle Parks & Recreation authority should consider having slackline poles installed in a few parks (similar to those installed in the Stawamish Provincial Park or in Santa Monica).  Parks & Rec already approved installation of metal poles at the behest of a private entity (Underdog Sports) at Golden Gardens for volleyball use, so this is not without precedent.  My gut feeling is that there are at least as many Seattle slackliners as volleyball players, and generally I only see volleyball players for about 2 months of the year, whereas we slackline year-round (I know this, because 10 months of the year I am able to setup my lines on their volleyball poles without getting in anyones’ way!).  My preference would be for metal poles rather than wood pylons, as they are smaller, easier to install, less likely to abrade webbing, and safety tie-offs can be welded to them if necessary.

If anyone reading this has had any access issues, or has any suggestions, I urge you to reply or to contact me privately.

Problems with Parks & Rec employees

As many of you know, I have been slacklining in Seattle’s public parks for over a year now, without ever an access issue.  I am an advocate of tree-padding when attaching to trees (both for my own safety and the safety of the tree), and politely mention use of tree-friendlies to any slackliners I see who may not be aware of the potential damage caused by abrasion.  More often than not, I see people padding trees, which is reassuring.

On July 2, 2009, I was approached by a parks department employee, in an orange vest, who was otherwise picking up refuse and emptying the trash bins (or overseeing the emptying thereof).  He initially told me how my lines were “neat” but would need to come down.  I was quick to point out that I was using adequate tree padding, in compliance with National Park Service guidelines (surely guidelines good enough for our most precious national parks are good enough for city parks).  He told me how [in his opinion] the towels I use for padding would not be sufficient, and that if I was to do this “in the spring” towels or no, the bark would “be torn right off.”  I could see at this point that I was not going to make much headway, so I neglected to tell him that sometimes I slackline between 20 and 40 hours *PER WEEK* and have done so through all four seasons in Washington, without ever causing any damage to any tree.  As slackliners know, once you find a good spot, you return to the same spot; I rig my lines over and over on the same trees, and never have I observed any damage to the trees.

I reiterated that the NPS policy was approved by rangers as well as arborists, and he told me he is a “certified arborist.”  I asked what I could do to protect the trees, in his opinion, in the future — as no matter where I am, protecting the environment is of utmost concern to me (slacklining, or not!).  He didn’t have any better suggestion, except to double or triple the towel padding I use (I am now doubling my padding).

I informed him I had slacklined for close to a week now in this park, with bicycle police often stopping to watch my practice.  Presumably this isn’t illegal, as the police should know the law.  He didn’t exactly counter this, but asserted it was nonetheless illegal.  I also explained I knew of several other people who used this park, and dozens who use Golden Gardens, and never have I heard about an access issue.  In the interest of clearing up the situation, I asked who I could be in touch with for an official policy on slacklines and tree padding.  He gave me the name of someone in a Supervisory position, and appropriate contact information.

Legality of Slacklining in Seattle

In case you were wondering, the only Seattle Municipal Codes I can find related to tree attachment are 15.32.300 and 18.12.050.  These address attachment to utility poles (not trees!), and posting of ads on trees, respectively.  The latter code does mention of attachment to trees, but not of rope/webbing, and only for the purposes of advertising (which I am certainly not doing).  King County Code 7.12.550 prohibits damaging trees and vegetation, but not attaching lines to said (provided damage doesn’t occur).  7.12.645 prohibits blocking of trails, but as I mention below, I am always careful not to obstruct pathways.

Also, just to address the other issue that I see might be raised (safety), I never rig my lines so as to obstruct pathways or other thoroughfares (formal ones or no).  I use bright webbing that is as visible as possible to pedestrians.  I never leave my lines alone (so I can vocally alert anyone approaching them who might not see them).  And finally, any long lines I rig are setup above the six feet in height, so that when no one is on them (which is about 99% of the time they are up) pedestrians and even cyclists can easily pass under them.  When I am on a long line, I am very careful about spotting in front of me, and I generally have one or two spotters watching for people behind me (to alert people who may not see the line).

On a second occasion, August 9, 2009, I believe the same Parks & Rec employee took issue with my slacklining at Cal Anderson, and called the park rangers on me.  When they approached me, I asserted my belief that I was within the law, and invited them (politely) to point out what law I was violating.  They explained that they knew I was within the law, and they weren’t going to ask me to leave, but considered my 165ft line an “access problem” for people traveling through the park.  This is, of course, the same park where staked volleyball nets are regularly setup (which *is* illegal), and where track and soccer teams take over the same area I was using (without permits) for doing drills.  They asked me to talk to a Parks Coordinator to settle the issue in the future.

On July 2, 2011, Barron (a NWslackline community member) was ejected from Anderson Park in Redmond. A few days later Kyle (another NWslackline member) was kicked out of Chambers Bay park. Others have recently reported similar experiences to me. I suspect the large numbers of new Gibbon line users are making the parks employees finally pay attention.

On July 24, 2011, while slacklining at Cal Anderson park, I had yet another run-in with a park employee. This time it was a security officer, who asserted that the Park Rangers work for him (implying he is the ultimate authority). He stated unequivocally that I require a use permit, my line is illegal, is damaging city property, and I would be cited. In response to an inquiry of whether persons have already been cited by Seattle Police, he said yes. Countering my comments about Yosemite guidelines, he responded that SPR is a city agency, not federal, and thus the tree padding guidelines are irrelevant. Eventually when I could see he wouldn’t be convinced, I asked that we call the police to commence the process of getting a ruling on whether this was a citation-worthy offense. When the police arrived, in the space of 90 seconds he went from asserting to them that it was “illegal” to a “gray area.” Police confirmed, “There’s no type of violation that I know of.” The full episode is available in video form below:

So, as I said at the top of this page, I am attempting to work with SPR officials to come up with an acceptable use policy. Intimidation and harassment from parks employees is not a desirable outcome, nor should our sport be involved in wasting the valuable time of Park Security, Park Rangers, or Seattle Police. As I point out in the video, Cal Anderson is a haven of drug use and public alcohol consumption — within 30 minutes of this incident several men were gathered less than 100 feet away drinking alcoholic beverages openly in the park — so we’d all rather that slackliners can safely and responsibly enjoy their sport, and the Parks folks can focus on other priorities.

The Rangers in the video, who were both quite friendly, gave me contact info for someone who handles use policy at Seattle Park and Rec, and hopefully in the next few days we can have a policy in place.


  1. Hi, I appreciate you educational efforts…

    there are so many set ups… so little time!!!

    Is it just me or are there many many complicated slackline set ups… and is there any real value to creation of the more elaborate systems… for the casual slacker?

    Pulleys as multipliers I get completely… but some of the set ups I have seen are extremely complicated… how come? I just use a simple minimalist rig… and it seems to work pretty well… do the more complicated rigs enable more or ‘better’ tricks or something? Or are they just a testament to overly zealous riggers?

    One item of note… I recently had a Snohomish county deputy ‘advise me’ that I was in violation of the ‘law’ unless I wore my bicycle helmet while slacklining….(hahaha where do they get these officious creeps anyway.) I didn’t try to argue… he might have busted my head with a stick.

    Answer: It’s hard to say. The multiplier makes sense if you need more tension. And some of the other little rigging tricks (like a spare ‘biner and rap ring to avoid tri-loading) make sense too. But I have seen lots of wonky 6-carabiner-primitive setups and stuff like that (which I have subsequently tested with a dyno and proven to be less efficient than the standard 3-into-1) … I think it’s mostly just superstition that leads to weird rigging methods.

    Hah! I’ll try to avoid SnoCo unless I pack a helmet!

  2. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the blog. Moments ago I was kicked from Steward Park on the premiss that my lines damaged the trees. I was using thick carpet for protection and the trees were over 2 feet thick.
    I’d like to find a spot that I could set up multiple lines without getting hassled. I also slackline at Cal Anderson from time to time. Any ideas are welcome.
    Also, how do you tension a 165′ line? I’d love to see that.
    Thanks again

    ANSWER: thanks for sharing; sorry about getting ejected from Seward! Golden Gardens is always hassle free, but there are few longline possibilities there (nothing over 60-70 feet is easily possible). The 100+ft lines involve a complicated pulley system — I will make a video post for it soon!

  3. Ryan says:

    Adam, I’m just curious about what Yosemite’s AUP is, as I’ve never actually seen it in person. I’m going to try to draft an AUP with the assistance of my local legislative members to avoid any potential confrontations.

    I’ve been unable to find any laws (city, county, or state) that prohibit slacklining specifically, so I’ve been comfortable setting lines up. After seeing this, though, I very much want to be more proactive in drawing slackline acceptance.

    Any resources you can send my way in relation to this would be wonderful – or do you recommend that I just go to my local Parks office?

    Answer: Here is Yosemite’s AUP, it is very straight forward. First step, I think, is searching local codes and laws for anything about attaching to trees (rope, wire, etc) or damaging trees. If you can’t find anything banning that, you’re looking good. Then either contact the events planning individual with your parks dept, or perhaps their media spokesperson.

  4. Scott says:
    Some municipalities contract with this site above to publish codes. Of course, they’re all written in “legaleze,” but they’re searchable.

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