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More US cities ban sledding. Will it work?

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WLWT - Cincinnati, OH

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Sledding, that favorite wintertime pastime and time-honored tradition for kids of all ages, may soon be banned at a park near you.

A growing number of cities across the country have begun banning sledding in public spaces citing legal costs from sledding injuries. While banning sledding may seem draconian, the risks of allowing it to continue on public property are too high, some municipalities have argued.

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One such city is Dubuque, Iowa, where the city council plans to ban sledding, tobogganing or any form of sliding down hills in 48 of its 50 parks. The city enjoys both plenty of hills and snow – fun for its residents, but concerning for Dubuque city officials.

"We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them," Marie Ware, Dubuque's leisure services manager, told the Associated Press. "We can't manage the risk at all of those places."

"Sledding is a risky activity. Anyone that sleds knows that," Dubuque city attorney Barry Lindahl wrote last month in a letter proposing the ban. "In conversations about sledding it is not unusual for people to talk about their accidents or near accidents along with the fun times they've had."

Each year, more than 20,000 children were treated at emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries between 1997 and 2007, according to a study by the Columbus, Ohio-based Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

And those accidents can be costly for cities.

Omaha, Neb., paid $2.4 million to a family after their daughter's sled hit a tree, leaving her paralyzed. Sioux City, Iowa was ordered to pay $2.75 million after a man was injured when he slid into a sign. And Boone, Iowa, agreed to pay $12 million after a sledder hit a concrete cube at the base of a popular sledding hill.

Those examples illustrate what drove cities such as Montville, N.J.; Des Moines, Iowa; Columbia City, Ind. and Lincoln, Neb.; to ban or restrict sledding, as the AP reports.

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Officials in Paxton, Illinois, went so far as to actually remove a hill in a a city park rather than risk injury and lawsuits from a sledding accident.

"The insurance would have skyrocketed if someone was hurt," city park board member Kay McCabe told the Champaign, Illinois-based News-Gazette.

And while some locals have bemoaned the bans as overly restrictive, Steve King, who runs a website that promotes sledding, told the AP he understands why cities impose restrictions.

"We live in a lawsuit-happy society and cities are just being protective by banning sledding in areas that pose a risk for injury or death," King said.

In Omaha, where one sledding accident resulted in a $2.4 million payout, the city banned sledding at a popular hill as a test one winter after losing a lawsuit. But it didn't work. 

"It wasn't practical," assistant city attorney Tom Mumgaard said. "People wouldn't abide by the ban."

So the city navigated a compromise: It lifted the ban and instead posted signs warning of sledding risks. It also placed protective pads around posts and hay bales around trees to protect sledders.

And in Dubuque, where sledding may soon be banned in 48 of its 50 parks, residents can still enjoy careening down hills in two public parks, albeit with plenty of signage about its risks. According to proposed signage for the two sledding hills, sledders will be warned to "NEVER, EVER ride head first on a sled" and that they "assume all risk of injury or damage resulting from sledding activity."