Have you ever tried slacklining? You know – tying a rope between two trees (or over a canyon) and using your arms to balance you as you walk across? It’s great exercise, great for fine-tuning all those little muscles in your body whose names no one knows, great for promoting mind-body balance, great for calming and focusing the mind, and great for bringing adventurous folks together in communities. In other words, it’s super fun.
Only problem is that in lots of places, slacklining is illegal. It’s sort of in the same vein as skateboarding, that way – some cities see the sport as a bit of a public menace, and put tight regulations on which trees can and can’t be used. Officials worry, understandably, about liability issues and injuries. Tyler Shalvarjian found that out the hard way a year or so back, when he was out slacklining with some friends in a Boulder park, and a cop walked up to them with a $250 fine.
[photo by David Taschner]
When your favorite sport is… illegal?
“Somebody must have called the cops,” Shalvarjian explains. “A couple of officers came up and told us that what we were doing was highly illegal, and that if one of the six of us didn’t take the ticket, then we would each receive a $250 ticket. As a community, we crowdfunded to pay for that ticket, and then I had a court hearing and put in eight hours of community service.”
Instead of getting upset about the ticket, Shalvarjian did what smart community leaders do day in and day out: he got active. He went to the Parks and Rec department and asked if they would build a slackline park where Boulder residents could practice the sport legally. And guess what? Two years and lots of hard work later, his dream is turning into a reality. He and a team – including Mackenzie Boli, who works for the city of Boulder on the Resilient Boulder Initiative – are just about done raising the final $2,500 needed to build Boulder’s very first official community slackline obstacle course – right in Tantra Park.
“What we’re doing with Resilient Boulder,” explains Boli, whose background is in climatology and environmental science, “is trying to create a space where community members can access money that’s more readily available than it might be from some of our grant processes. So we pay the fees associated with ioby for community members who are creating resilience-oriented projects. This Tantra Park slackline course is the first project we’re working on.” What’s resilience? Think flood mitigation, access to healthy food, building social capital at the neighborhood level. Resilience is about addressing day-to-day challenges, so our community is stronger when there is a bigger threat, like a forest fire or flood. Think any project that makes your neighborhood cleaner, greener, healthier, more connected.
Exercising the body, the brain… and the community activism muscle
Shalvarjian got into slacklining in college, when he saw a video of a friend doing it, and falling off the rope into a freezing cold lake. He was sold. “Originally it was about relaxing and being able to meditate and focus on just slacklining,” he explains now, “you can’t really focus on much else when you’re doing it – and it was just a way to step away from things. But as soon as I got out to Colorado for college, it pretty instantly became about community, because there’s an awesome slacklining community out here.”
Having been involved since the start in the effort to legalize slacklining in Boulder, Shalvarjian is going to be taking some lessons away with him. “I think the best thing I’ve gained from this effort to legalize slacklining” he says, “is that it felt pretty good to have worked on something for so long – two years – and taken the right steps to do it, and to have been successful. We still have a lot to work on with the city. But it felt good to have established a new way of doing things.”
[photo by Waverley Woodley]
He’s also taking some new, well-earned patience and perspective with him into his day job at a startup automated video company in Denver. “I guess the way that it’s affected my work and how I do things day to day is that I’m quite a bit more patient,” he says. “Slacklining isn’t the first thing on the city’s agenda – I’m sure they have other issues they’re dealing with that are more important than the community’s desire to slackline. This has improved my patience, and I’ve become better at trying to explain things to people. For me, slacklining is more of a selfish act – I’m gaining patience and perspective for myself, and calming myself down. But working with the city, I learned how to apply that externally.”
A true citizen action convert, he says he’ll always make himself available as a resource for the city of Boulder and anyone else who needs his help. That’s pretty cool, if you ask us.
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.