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Bill in Oregon Legislature focuses on free recreation sites

FILE -- Oregon Capitol House chambers. (AP File Photo/Don Ryan)

In Redmond, a climbing wall built on a bridge's arches closed soon after it was opened by the Central Oregon city. In Pilot Rock, a tiny town in northeast Oregon, a motocross track was closed.

They were loved by thrill-seekers, but closed because of legal concerns after a March 2016 Oregon Supreme Court decision. That decision noted that an Oregon law shields owners of such properties from lawsuits if someone gets hurt, but not employees and other agents of landowners.

The League Of Oregon Cities, which represents all 242 of Oregon's incorporated cities, is now backing a bill in the Oregon Senate that would extend that protection to those agents.

In the 2016 case, the high court sided with a woman who sued a Portland city parks worker and his supervisor after he left a hole uncovered in a park, and the woman stepped into it while jogging, injuring herself.

After the court ruling, the city of Redmond's insurance bill for the climbing arch that had been featured in Climbing Magazine and on the cover of Redmond's visitors' guide rose from $5,000 to $157,000, and the deductible increased from $50,000 to $100,000, Redmond Mayor George Endicott said on Wednesday.

"We had to shut it," Endicott said.

A website for Climb Maple Bridge notes it will take legislative action to reopen the facility, and says: "Nobody is more bummed about the closure than we are. The starting holds and quickdraws have been removed. The rest of the route is remaining up, because we are confident that it will be re-opened."

Scott Winkels, a lobbyist with the League of Oregon Cities, says he is compiling a list of facilities that have been closed in the state as a result of the court ruling.

"The motocross track in Pilot Rock was mothballed, a huge blow to that community," Winkels said in a telephone interview. "We have heard from Pendleton that they had to close a couple of playgrounds. There was a really odd incident in Enterprise where public works crews balked at going into parks because they felt they had personal liability."

A mountain-bike park in Portland that has been in the works for years might also be affected, months before its scheduled opening, the Willamette Week newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Oregon Recreational Use Statute says it was meant "to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes" for no charge and other purposes such as woodcutting. It says "an owner of land is not liable in contract or tort for any personal injury, death or property damage that arises out of the use of the land" for those purposes.

Before the court decision, it was believed that employees of landowners and volunteers were also covered by that protection.

"The core of the issue is we accept certain risks when we get on a bike or go climbing or put a kid on top of the jungle gym," Winkels said.

The Oregon Trial Lawyers Association opposes the bill and a similar House version, and has proposed legislation that would give park users more power to sue, the Willamette Week reported.

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