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Weather: the main adversary of the Collage


   By Tony Ahern
   Publisher
   Want to know when the coldest day in May is going to be next year? Look for the third Saturday. That's when the 11th Collage of Culture will be held, so odds are it will be the coldest day of the month.
   Once again the county's showcase event was marred by cruddy weather. A little rain, lots of wind, a major hailstorm, dark, heavy clouds, and plenty of old-fashioned cold. Sure, we've had some spectacular days over the 10-year event run. It used to be nice every other year, but that hasn't been the case for a few years.
   Still, with the weather gods tying both hands behind their back, the Collage organization put together another excellent event. The entertainment I caught was great, and I heard that which I missed was outstanding as well.
   This was a extra stressful year for the Collage organization, being both a year of milestones (the 10th anniversary) and transition (charging an entry fee for the first time). The $5 gate fee might have kept a few folks away, but it didn't cause rioting in the streets. It's necessary to put on a quality event. The growth and continuation of the Collage will be dependent on both maintaining and expanding sponsorships and growing the gate take. The key to success is that vicious cycle: you have to have enough money to bring in the type of entertainment which will draw enough people to allow you to make enough money to keep drawing quality entertainment.
   Oh, and having nice weather brings out people, too. The Collage folks need to work on that.
   Aside from all the issues of growth, hopes and vision, operations and funding, the Collage is, at its core, a fantastic party for the community. The many men and women who volunteer to make it happen are doing us all a great favor. Great job, y'all, and thanks. May new ideas continue to make the Collage vibrant, and veteran, reliable people continue to donate their efforts and leadership.
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   Culver High School student Zach Henson is on a mission. He's transformed his senior project into an educational campaign in honor of a friend, John Urbach, who died last summer after climbing a pillar on the Crooked River Bridge at the Cove and jumping 110 feet. Urbach had done the unsafe jump many times, as has many others over the years. But this time when he hit the water, he didn't come back up.
   Recently, Zach brought the entire CHS senior class before the Jefferson County Commission and asked that it ban all jumping from the Crooked River Bridge. His effort is inspired, thorough and praiseworthy. He'll likely be successful. The county commission appears eager to appease the students. It's been made into an easy political decision, and politicians love those.
   I'd like to see Mr. Henson put the pressure on the commissioners. Is his goal to get the county to put up a sign, or is it to keep another youngster with an exaggerated need for thrill-seeking from making a tragic mistake? Should the goal be to make jumping off the bridge illegal, or should it be to keep people from jumping off at unsafe levels?
   When I was in high school we lost friends to crazy driving. Who hasn't lost friends to car wrecks in high school? The response is always a very hard lesson learned; it isn't to ban teenagers from driving.
   We need to remember that last summer's tragedy was the first death in nearly 40 years that the bridge has been over the lake. More people died in one summer at the lake in personal water craft accidents. Of kids and young adults that jump from the bridge, 99.9 percent do it from safe distances, from the concrete bases beneath the bridge, from the bridge or bridge railing.
   Most high dives in swimming pools are taller than the base at the Crooked River Bridge, and those high dives are usually over pools surrounded by concrete, only about 15 to 20 feet deep, with the ever-present danger of a 6-year-old swimming into your landing zone. In younger days, I jumped off the bridge well over 100 times -- always from safe distances. I don't know if I'd have the guts to jump from a public pool high dive.
   Making it illegal to jump off the bridge won't keep people from jumping from unsafe levels. Welding in a barrier to keep people from climbing to unsafe levels will.
   The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office isn't going to place a deputy on a lawn chair for all-day patrol to keep kids (and young adults) from jumping off the bridge. While the possibility of getting caught jumping off the bridge might add an element of danger to the otherwise safe thrill, it won't stop the activity.
   Go ahead and vote to ban jumping, commissioners. Put up a sign. Jumping will be significantly reduced. But if a climbing barrier isn't erected, you won't stop those souls who are driven to climb to unsafe levels.
   A better memorial would be a plaque at the bridge in John Urbach's honor, urging jumpers to be safe, to savor life without infusing unnecessary risks. It would be incomplete, though, without barriers built to keep the next kid from climbing to the level the young man jumped from last summer.
   If the commissioners are really concerned about safety and not merely making political hay, they should look into the relatively easy structure fixes to make that climb impossible. High school students know better than anyone that a sign alone won't do the job.
   If kids can't get a small thrill jumping from a safe distance into a giant lake of deep water, they'll get a thrill elsewhere. Maybe from sitting in a tin can on wheels and driving 100 miles an hour. We have road signs that try to keep them from it, but kids don't always heed those signs.