Unused ropes course on edge of university land called ‘hazard’ by UB official

Sweet Home Senior High School ropes course still standing

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If you walk five minutes past Sweet Home Senior High School into the neighboring woods, you’ll find a rope bridge hanging from tree-to-tree, sneakers hanging off the ropes and a fallen tree with belay hooks and climbing gear still attached.

All of this is easily accessible to Sweet Home teens. There’s even a trail leading to the course near the high school and no fence or sign blocking entry. 

The ropes course was a project spearheaded by members of Sweet Home Senior High School who wanted to build an outdoor feature in the forest next to the school’s baseball field.

There’s just one problem: that neighboring forest is on land owned by the University at Buffalo, potentially creating a hazard for students and a liability issue.

“The whole thing is a hazard in my eyes,” said Russell Crispell, director of Outdoor Pursuits at UB. “The structures are still standing, and it’s so close to [the high school]. The ropes course itself is hard to access but it’s still possible. What has me nervous is that there is a trust fall pole still there that could be used.”

Despite being closer to the high school, the land is a part of over 200 acres of UB property that remains forest. Now, with the course still standing, no club from either school uses it in an official capacity. But there’s evidence that the course attracts visitors – since April, sneakers have piled up on the ropes.

UB officials have yet to comment on the situation or answer specific questions from The Spectrum, but are looking into the matter, according to UB spokesperson John DellaContrada.

The course worries Crispell, who is concerned about the use of the land and the potential danger it poses.

“To me it’s pretty clear that now it’s just an unused ropes course sitting on UB,” Crispell said in an interview this April. “That’s land I would like to use for Outdoor Pursuits that I’ve talked to the school about before, but haven’t been allowed to use it. Sweet Home High School doesn’t use [the course] anymore after UB discussed the situation with them, is what I’ve been told.”

The Spectrum reached out to administrators at Sweet Home Senior High School through calls and email throughout October, but none were willing to comment. The school has been a part of the Amherst community since 1956 and has neighbored North Campus since its construction.

The ropes course includes a trust fall pole that is still in usable condition and a climbing ladder that reaches the height of the trees that is still intact. Less accessible are the walking bridge that has wooden platforms to step on and a tightrope “Bermuda bridge” section.

There is also a fallen tree that still has hooks and climbing gear attached to it. There are signs around the high school entrance stating, “No trespassing, ropes course not to be used without supervision by authorized personnel.” Visitors coming from UB see deteriorating barbed wire fences, with fading “No trespassing” signs on them.

“What is surprising is that Sweet Home could build a whole ropes course, use it and UB not know about it,” Crispell said. “UB has so much space but there seems like there is little interest in using it. So a school like Sweet Home, seeing the unused space near their school, no wonder they went forward with it.”

According to Crispell, a club at Sweet Home built and used the ropes course for a short period.

“I don’t know how the situation played out between the schools besides Sweet Home being told to stop using it,” Crispell said. “Besides kids throwing old sneakers at it, I am not sure why either school hasn’t worked to take the course down.”

Crispell said he hopes to see the land used soon, but was more confident that the university would continue to do little with it. The university has not commented on any plans for future land use.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at  thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Thomas_Spectrum