A crowd of people filled the Sandwich Boardwalk at high tide Wednesday morning, patiently waiting their turn to climb over the railing and step onto the two foot platform and jump into the waters of Mill Creek.
But last week, selectmen asked the question: does a jump from this boardwalk or from the Scorton Creek Bridge on Route 6A in East Sandwich pose too great a liability to the town?
For Richard Butz, who is an attorney from Brielle, New Jersey, and his two children Carlie, 13, and Owen, 11, jumping off the boardwalk is as much a part of their summer tradition as watching fireworks on the Fourth of July.
“They have been waiting for four days to jump from the bridge,” he said.
He pointed out that timing is a critical part of this summer activity. Not only does the weather have to be cooperative, but the tides must be right.
On Wednesday morning, with the sun shining brightly and high tide arriving just after 11 AM, Mr. Butz and his two children headed down to the boardwalk.
“Owen did his first flip off the bridge today,” Mr. Butz proudly announced.
Prior to that jump, he said, he cautioned his son about how far away from the bridge he should be before making the flip.
His children have been making the plunge from the town-owned structure since they were 9 and 10 years old.
“I don’t set a minimum age. When they think they are ready to jump, I let them. The first time they jumped from the bridge, I was in the water below, waiting for them,” he said.
Fourteen-year-old Anders LaFortune of Douglas, Massachusetts who was in Sandwich this week visiting her grandmother said she has been jumping from the bridge since she was 3 years old.
But for her cousin, Emily Doherty, 14, of Plainville, this week marked her inaugural jump.
“I wasn’t scared but the water was freezing on Tuesday. It’s better today,” she said.
Edward Clavette of North Attleboro said he has been making the trip to the boardwalk for the past 35 years.
“We taught our children to dive from this bridge,” he said.
Just as jumping from the boardwalk has become a favorite summer pastime for visitors and residents alike, thrill seekers say jumping off of the Scorton Creek Bridge is an equally favorite tradition in town—a kind of rite of passage—especially for children who grew up here.
Olivia Nelson, a 2012 graduate of Sandwich High School, said the first time she jumped off of the Scorton Creek Bridge was last summer with her cross-country teammates.
“It was scary,” she admitted, noting that the bridge is not only much higher than the boardwalk but abuts Route 6A, with plenty of cars whizzing by. But, she said, the experience proved to be a memory she will cherish.
“It was a good way to bond together as a team,” she said.
Olivia, who moved to Sandwich when she was in the 2nd grade, said jumping off of the boardwalk is an activity that defines Sandwich and makes the town unique, whether you are a participant or just a spectator.
“It’s a cool thing to see. People who live here have grown up with this activity,” she said.
But last week, the board of selectmen discussed whether this activity should be prohibited or, at the very least, discouraged.
Selectmen are questioning what the town’s liability would be if anybody was injured while jumping off of the boardwalk or the Scorton Creek Bridge.
“It’s considered an attractive nuisance,” said selectmen Frank Pannorfi who worked in the insurance industry prior to retiring.
Responding to the board’s concern, Mr. Butz who owns a summer home in town, said he would not hold the town responsible if he or his children were injured jumping from the bridge.
“I’m a lawyer and I understand that I am doing this at my own risk,” he said.
The board has directed Assistant Town Manager Douglas A. Lapp to look into the matter and gather input from the town’s insurance carrier.
At the meeting, Mr. Lapp told the board that if they wanted to put up a sign prohibiting jumping from the boardwalk, the town would most likely be required to enforce that prohibition—something that would require patrolling the area.
As for the Scorton Creek Bridge: “That is state-owned property,” Mr. Lapp said, “but the town could still be liable.”