MADISON COUNTY — Bridge jumping in Madison County is illegal. And those who have been jumping off of Plano Bridge on West 400 North have become a nuisance to those living near the bridge.
“It’s more than I’ve ever seen before,” said Mark Sommer, a property owner who lives near Plano Bridge.
After years of Sommers and his family living there, this year, he said enough was enough.
Sommer said parking was a big issue. He said they had trucks blocking their driveway in addition to people parking on their neighbors lawns, parking on the bridge and blocking traffic.
At the Madison County Commissioner Meeting Monday, Sept. 10, Commissioner Brent Mendenhall said that Sommer called him expressing his concern and frustration.
Sommer said that one family parked their truck on the bridge and unloaded their family for bridge jumping and tubing when another truck, who was driving over the bridge, honked in frustration as they had to wait for the unloading party.
“There was a big truck who was driving up to the bridge and he just laid on his horn and drove by,” Sommer said. “Because he was in the middle of the road and that’s the problem we have.”
The commissioners asked for suggestions and solutions.
Cindy Roberson, Supervisor for Madison County Road and Bridge, said one long term solutions might be to buy the state gravel pit, north of Yellowstone Bear World, and turn it into a water recreation center. It’s her hope that if they build a place for them to swim and have fun, maybe they will stop jumping off of bridges.
“If you put up parking, you’re encouraging it to continue,” Roberson said.
The Madison County Sheriff’s department made suggestions as well.
“I think it should be illegal, I don’t think it should be allowed and that’s where I’m at on it,” said Sheriff Rick Henry.
Sheriff Henry said that he found bridge jumping to be stupid and dangerous.
“The majority of the problem is that you have this narrow road and you have everyone gathering up on the bridge, and you have cars going through there 50, 60 miles an hour, somebody’s gonna get hurt. We’re lucky it hasn’t happened yet,” said Lieutenant Mike Courtney.
Courtney said that he wants to make it an infraction instead of a $300 misdemeanor and regulate parking so that they can ticket and move people along instead of making them criminals.
“Make it harder for vehicles to park there and show that there’s a sportsman’s access. Right now, it’s a misdemeanor. If we charge them with that, there is going to be an uproar,” Courtney said.
Despite bridge jumping being illegal, Courtney said that he has never cited anyone for it.
“We’re trying to save them, trying to help them,” Sheriff Henry said. “And the people who live there don’t want them there, it’s their private property. It’s their lawns they’re parking on, their driveways they’re parking in front of. If you want to be out there, you can float the river and do those sort of activities. But you’re not gonna jump off the bridge and you’re not gonna park on people’s property, and beyond that go have fun.”
With all the complaints on the table, Commissioner Brent Mendenhall asked the hard question:
“Can we shut it down? The signs are out there. They’ve been there for years and they’re being ignored.”
Commissioner Jon Weber had some opinions on the matter.
“We try to create wholesome activities,” Weber said. “How many of us have memories of hiking and jumping, playing outdoors, fishing and swimming? These are good wholesome activities. But something happens and we want to shut it all down. Now you gotta look at the flip-side, where do these kids go? What kind of activities do they have left that doesn’t cost them money?”
Weber continued to say that despite what they do, the county will be paying for it.
“We pay for it one way or another,” Weber said. “We pay for it on this end or we pay for it through juvenile probation and courts. Because they don’t have anything else to do, so what do they do? They go out and get in trouble.”
Right now, the season is getting colder so the number of participants have started to decrease but when July and August hit again, the same problem will arise.
Commissioner Jon Weber said they will look at what they can do starting in April or May of next year.