The rare heavy snowfalls this winter sent families to the nearest slopes to sled — including the face of Sequoia Dam. One resident teenager's back was broken when she sledded into one of the toe drains at the bottom of the dam.
In an attempt to prevent similar accidents in the future, The Seven Lakes Landowners Association [SLLA] Board of Directors voted, in a four-to-one decision during the Wednesday, April 30 open meeting, to prohibit residential access to the dam. No trespassing signs would be erected to reinforce the new rule. The proposed ban would not only apply to sledding but also to foot, ATV, and vehicular traffic.
Manager Ray Sohl reported that the new measures were recommended by the Lakes and Dam Committee.
“The reason is: the slope is not designed for sledding,” Sohl said. “We have to maintain the grass. There are bald areas that will need to be addressed this year. Traffic can contribute to erosion. It’s difficult to reestablish the grade, once erosion has started.”
Many residents have fond memories of sledding on the dam, including resident Audrey Baker, who said, “I have been here for thirty-six years, and this is the first accident. I have sledded down them in the past. I don’t see why we keep restricting the kids.”
It’s not a problem until it is a liability
The new rule and signage is necessary to show that the SLLA management and board has taken action to try and prevent future accidents, Sohl said.
“It is a real safety problem," he added. "The toe drains can’t be altered.”
“I, too, have enjoyed that hill since I have been here," another resident said. "However, I was there when the young girl had the accident; and, in her honor, we need to at least mark those toe drains so they can be avoided. It was a horrific accident. I would hate to see it happen to anybody ever again."
Director Chuck Leach disagreed with erecting "No Trespassing" signs and suggested signs that read "Sled at your Own Risk."
"Recreation sleigh riding has occurred for many years," Leach said." The association’s own insurance broker reported that, as a youngster, he used to sleigh ride down the embankment. I know if damage to the dam were a concern, then the Lakes and Dam Committee would have contacted the association many years ago."
"Management states that the dams are not designed for sledding," Leach continued. "Likewise, roads aren’t designed for pedestrians, and lakes are not designed for submarines. A serious and unfortunate accident resulted in a back injury of a resident. If we failed to act, then we would be liable."
"We must respond to this accident in a realistic manner," Leach continued. "Erecting unsightly fences that kids can go over and around is not the answer. Signage cannot be enforced. The solution is signage similar to what is posted at all of our lakes: 'No lifeguard on duty swim at your own risk.'"
If it happened once . . .
Director Ritter argued that, If it happened once, it could happen again.
“We need to have volunteer compliance to make sure our community or association runs orderly," Ritter said. "I am not suggesting, for a second, to put a fence around the dam. What I am saying is we know what is unsafe, based on an accident. All it takes is one time for a child to become a paraplegic. If we continue to allow it, then that’s a sin. I can’t sit here in good conscious and say it won’t happen again."
"To be stewards," Ritter continued, "we have to set standards and say 'No sledding.' We need to keep things orderly to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. We would be negligent if we didn’t let people know.”
Director Bill Hirsch contends that 'Sled at your own risk' signs could actually encourage sledding.
“I agree with everything Chuck said, except the 'at your own risk' sign,' Hirsch said. "It invites people to sled, in light of an accident that we had. I don’t think we can do that. 'No trespassing' is something that we can choose to enforce or not, and we can mark where the hazards are. I am really against putting up a sign that says 'Sled at your own risk.'”
“We happen to live at the bottom of Overlook," a resident said. "We have a crazy amount of water that comes down into our yard. We have four children, and I let my child go sledding on Sequoia. For children here, snow and sledding is so exciting, because we rarely get it. We see the effects on the dam when it starts to break down — we are sump-pumping water out of our basement. I recognize something has to be done. The 'No trespassing' signs makes a lot of sense. The 'At risk' signs makes people think its okay.”
The ban on sledding and No Trespassing signs were approved in a 4-1 vote, with Leach opposed.
Lake water quality is great
The quality of water in the SLLA lakes is near drinking water standards, Director Rich Faraci reported.
“The water quality continues to be up to standards and is actually considered potable water," Faraci said, "if you believe it or not.”
The board voted unanimously to continue to host the Open Water State Swim Championship on Lake Echo.
“The event is very well organized and will be held on June 6 and 7,” Manager Sohl reported. “It is really outstanding that they continue to come back, because our water quality is so good, and select us each year for those reasons.”
Hirsch agreed: “It’s impressive. Anybody who hasn’t seen these people swim should come by. It’s really impressive. They only swim five times around the lake really fast.”
To maintain consistent water quality testing and reporting the Lakes and Dams Committee is in need of new members.
“We could use some new members," Faraci announced. "What we normally do is keep a visual inspection of lakes and dam. We also do inspections on the water quality to keep it up at standards. We definitely need some new people."
"We meet during the morning, mostly, because it’s a lot cooler for walking the hills. But, if we need to, we can accommodate some afternoon hours. Come see us if interested.”
Bandit, a free-lease horse that has been used by the Seven Lakes Stables, will soon be sent back to the owner. Bandit has proven to be temperamental, so, to avoid possible injuries, Stable Manager Amanda Dugan recommended in January that he be traded out.
That leaves the herd short one horse and the board debated whether to fill that vacancy.
Newly-elected Board Member Sandy Sackmann said that she would like more information before agreeing to bring in a new horse to bring the herd back up to eight. Leach agreed with Sackmann that the board should table the discussion.
Last year, the board voted to maintain a herd size of eight horses, based on usage numbers recorded kept by the previous stable manager. The objective of setting a herd size was to avoid having a renewed debate on that question every time a horse needs to be replaced.
Director Hirsch noted that the motion on the floor was not to discuss herd size — as it had already been determined by previous action of the Board. The motion, Hirsch noted, was to replace Bandit with the purchase of a horse for the amount of $1,500.
“It’s our obligation to keep the herd size at eight," Hirsch said. "Right now, we have obligation at eight, and it is what has been approved. It is also leading right up to riding season.”
Director Ritter agreed that Hirsch had made a very good point.
The motion to replace Bandit passed three-to-two, with Faraci, Hirsch, and Ritter voting in favor of the purchase of a horse to complete the herd. Leach and Sackmann voted against.
President Racine laughed, “I am glad I didn’t have to break that tie.”
Newly elected Board Director Mary Farley was unable to attend the meeting. She sent a letter of heartfelt thanks to everyone that helped to make the Easter egg hunt a rousing success.
In other business during the SLLA Board's Wednesday, April 30 Open Meeting:
• President Racine encouraged residents to obey SLLA speed limits. “The Sheriff's Office has been in here issuing warrants and writing tickets," Racine said. "I encourage people to slow down.”
• The board voted unanimously to prohibit smoking within twenty feet of the entry ways of the Game Room, Landowners Office, and North Clubhouse.