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Baseball league concerned about paragliders landing (and crashing) near their field

A paraglider caught in a tree at North Vancouver's Cleveland Park caused a little chaos at a recent baseball practice and raised questions about safety

A North Shore youth baseball association says that its players have more than enough to think about while tracking fly balls without the worry of a paraglider also landing on top of them.

The North Shore Baseball Association uses the upper field at North Vancouver’s Cleveland Park for games and practices throughout the spring season. Cleveland Park is also a landing spot for the Grouse Mountain Flying Team, a paragliding group that uses Grouse Mountain as a jumping off point. The group is not officially affiliated with Grouse Mountain Resort.

The paragliders and baseball players ordinarily co-exist. During baseball season, the paragliders take out field permits for the lower soccer field at Cleveland Park for times when baseball is being played on the upper field, enabling them to land without major disruptions to games or practices.

But that hasn’t been happening this season, according to NSBA president Nicholas Van Dyk, who said that baseball practices and games have been interrupted multiple times this spring by paragliders landing in the middle of the action on the upper field.

The latest incident happened on the evening of June 8, when two paragliders landed near a 9U team’s practice on Cleveland Park’s upper field, followed by a third glider who got snagged in a nearby tree. The scene descended into a bit of chaos for the baseball players as they were too distracted to finish their practice. Luckily, that incident ended with just intrigue and not injuries, but it could have been a lot worse, said Van Dyk.

“If it was just kind of annoying, then whatever – we would deal with it and move on,” he said. “There's lots of disruptions on municipal fields. But if somebody is flying in and clearly they're not fully in control of themselves, and they're going into the trees and landing [near] the baseball diamond where the kids are playing – if they can't be in control, they probably shouldn't be doing it.”

Bill Nikolai, a director of the Grouse Mountain Flying Team, said his club takes safety seriously and has no desire to be in conflict with other user groups such as the baseball association. He explained that on June 8, the lower field at Cleveland Park, where paragliders are permitted to land, was full of unpermitted users playing a pickup soccer game, and so the gliders made a choice to land on an empty patch of the upper field.

He acknowledged that was a mistake, and said all of his members have now been reminded to land on the permitted lower field when the upper field is booked for baseball, even if it means dispersing a large group of unpermitted soccer players or other field users by using a whistle or other means to alert them. The paragliders also are considering adding to signage around the lower field to alert users about the field's use as a landing zone. Signs would list times the field is booked.

As for the paraglider caught in a tree, he said that was a rare occurrence, and the pilot was aiming for the lower field.

“Talking to the pilot who ended up in the tree, he initially thought he was going to have too much altitude, so he came in fairly low and then encountered a bunch of sink – cold air that was descending – that put him those very few feet lower than he wanted to be, and he ended up snagging a tree,” Nikolai said. “I can assure you that our landings generally are very, very controlled. We're not going to be landing anywhere near kids, let’s put it that way.”

Nikolai also said he’d be happy to speak to representatives of the baseball association to make sure they are all on the same page about field usage.

Carolyn Grafton, a DNV spokesperson, said that anyone intending to land on a district field needs a permit to do so, and incidences of conflict among field users can be reported on the district's Report a Problem webpage or to @DNVFields on Twitter.

“When a report is received, staff will attend and enforce the district’s park use bylaw as necessary,” she said.