ST. GEORGE -- The decision stands: No BASE jumping will be allowed in Utah's state parks.
And it doesn't matter if the would-be daredevil is from Holladay or Hollywood.The Utah State Parks and Recreation Board declined to take any action Thursday, leaving intact its previous ruling to ban film production crews and anyone else from orchestrating BASE (Buildings, Antennae, Spans and Earth forms) jumps.
The issue surfaced several months ago when filmmaker John Woo made the first-ever request for a permit to BASE jump inside a Utah state park. He was turned down by the park manager, then appealed to the board.
Woo, working on Paramount Pictures' production of "Mission Impossible 2," had asked for permission to send someone -- possibly actor Tom Cruise -- off the top of southeastern Utah's Dead Horse Point.
Cruise, or a stunt double, would have been wearing a parachute, but state parks officials were nonetheless concerned that something would go wrong, resulting in expensive rescue efforts. And even if the producers agreed to pay any such costs, which they did, officials worried the practice -- if permitted -- would spread to the private sector, lead to a number of permit requests and ultimately raise issues of liability.
After appealing park manager Rock Smith's decision, Paramount abruptly withdrew its appeal prior to a board meeting in late August. The film company decided to substitute special effects for an actual BASE jump, according to parks officials. But the board agreed at that time to revisit the issue in its November meeting, held Thursday.
BASE jumping has become a popular activity, albeit illegal in most cases, among a certain group of extreme outdoor enthusiasts. A 60-year-old woman died recently when her parachute did not open while BASE jumping in California's Yosemite National Park. Ironically, she was jumping to protest a National Park Service ban of the activity.
Board members hinted they would keep the BASE jumping ban in place during a public hearing Wednesday night in Santa Clara.
Board member Norman Nielsen worried that if an exception in the policy were made for filmmakers, the general public could argue they should be allowed to BASE jump, too. Smith, other staff members and board members agreed.
"I really feel this is inappropriate at the park," said board member Lucille Tuttle. "I really feel we should say it is prohibited."
A big concern for board member Bill Hedden is that BASE jumpers might indirectly endanger the lives of others. If Tom Cruise, for example, jumped off Dead Horse Point, children visiting the park might rush to the edge of the cliff to watch him go over, endangering their own lives, he said.
Smith pointed out that refusing the BASE jumping permit did not cause the economy of southeastern Utah to crumble.
The filmmakers came anyway and the park alone made $12,000 in revenue from other scenes Paramount filmed in the park, he said.
The board had also agreed to re-examine its process for appealing decisions like the rejection of permits. While there is no formal policy in place, persons whose permit applications are rejected can now appeal to the board.
"It is not encouraged, nor is it expressed" that applicants can appeal to the board, said Courtland Nelson, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.
Board members agreed a more formally stated policy might encourage more appeals. They said the process should not be so flexible as to create a scenario in which every staff decision is appealed to the board. They left the current procedure in place.
Also, the board decided Wednesday it would not close the north access to Snow Canyon State Park, leaving U-8 open to traffic in both directions.
The board revisited that issue Thursday, saying there was some confusion over its related decision not to charge "commuters" to drive through the park. Some board members were concerned local residents may have taken that to mean they can visit the park anytime they want without paying the $4 entry fee.
Hedden said that policy, if not clarified, could result in a huge loss of fee revenue for the park.
"I take a very dim view of anything that tells us if you're just driving through the park, you're free," he said.
"They'll all become commuters," Tuttle added, speaking of park visitors in general.
The board agreed to hold yet another public meeting in the St. George area, next January, specifically to discuss Snow Canyon State Park issues. Creation of a local park advisory group and the fee exception for commuters will be discussed then.