An escalation of risky behaviour at waterfalls leads to more enforcement power for Hamilton bylaw

The Devil's Punchbowl in Stoney Creek is among the waterfall locations flagged for risky behaviour. Hamilton Conservation Authority

The city is again stepping up enforcement at Hamilton waterfalls in response to an influx of visitors and a corresponding spike in risky behaviour.

Under an agreement with the Hamilton Conservation Authority, the city is giving bylaw officers the power to lay trespassing and other provincial charges on conservation authority land.

Up until now, bylaw officers haven’t been able to enforce such rules on private property (including HCA land), which has restricted their authority in several popular natural areas including Spencer Gorge, the Dundas Peak, Tiffany Falls and parts of the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Read more: Hamilton waterfall enforcement pilot project is a go for 2021

The motion to empower bylaw officers was presented to Hamilton city council on Wednesday by Dundas Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek, and it followed a serious incident last Friday at Webster’s Falls.

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She notes that a “very significant rope rescue” was needed when a teenager was critically injured after a 12-metre fall at that location.

Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge voiced frustration at an activity called slacklining, particularly at Grindstone Falls in Waterdown, in which a person balances or walks on a tightrope.

Read more: Injured teen sent to hospital after rope rescue at Webster Falls, Hamilton paramedics say

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark referenced an incident at the Devil’s Punchbowl in which an individual climbed the 10-metre-high cross that overlooks that location “and stood on the cross like he was a superhero.”

Clark also argues for more signage to inform visitors about what they can’t do at waterfall locations, such as scaling the cataracts.

“There are many young people who are not aware that they can’t do this, and many of the people who we have to rescue are young people who through misadventure have now found themselves stuck to the side of the wall, they can’t go up or they can’t come down,” he said.

There has been a surge in visitors to Hamilton’s natural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Vanderbeek says “things are escalating as the weather improves and the lockdown is not helping it.”

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Read more: Canadian daredevil walks 210 feet between cliffs to break slackline world record

Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko was the only dissenting voice to expanding the reach of city bylaw officers.

“We’re regulating personal responsibility,” argued Danko. “There’s a scale of risk for each people and it’s really up to you to know your individual limits.

“What looks dangerous, such as slacklining, to one person is perfectly safe to somebody else.”

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