Luck is only half of the story

Pilots are always asking me how is it I came to owning a flying site. I tell them I am just lucky; but the truth is, several pilots and myself worked very hard for many years to keep the site open.

Editor's Note: Bubba Goodman owns the Tater Hill, NC flying site:

Tales from the trenches

By Bubba Goodman

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Landowner appreciation at the Tater Hill Open (photo by Jay Browder)

Good relationships with the landowners at the top and at the landing zones don't just happen overnight. Good flying sites are hard to come by, and once you lose one, you may never gain it back. In the 40 plus years of flying in North Carolina, we have lost at least four sites, and possibly more. One closed because non-local pilots either didn't know about or didn't care about site rules. Pilots walked around locked gates, didn’t call for permission to fly, and left trash at the launch site.

What we as pilots must remember, above all else, is that we have no right to enter someone else’s property and fly from it. Even if we are leasing property, we must be aware of all the subtleties that result when the property is used for free-flight. Though I now own a launch site, I am still surrounded by other landowners, so I try to be as respectful as possible.

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Doe Mountain Recreation Area

There are no hard-and-fast guidelines on opening a flying site. A few years ago I was contacted by a nearby land developer who wanted to know if there was interest in possibly opening a new flying site. 8000 acres had been donated to the town of Mountain City, Tennessee to be used as a designated recreation area. The developer had heard about the successes of Tater Hill and wanted me to speak in front of a group of people who were to decide possible activities to include. The planning group then set up an on-line survey that was later linked to from our website and the Tater Hill Facebook page, which in turn resulted in a huge public response. The planning group said it was by far the largest response among rock crawlers, four wheelers, hikers, mountain bikers, horse enthusiasts, and several other interested groups. I in turn solicited USHPA for additional help and for them to send literature about opening a flying site. There is not a lot of available literature for opening a site. (USHPA does have a Site Management Manual in the Members Section under Flying Sites).

This incident calls attention to the need for someone to draft a “how to establish a flying site” manual that USHPA can make available, even if it’s just a simple guideline. What I’ve found in promoting our sport is that it’s truly a great sport. Compared to all the activities the planning group was considering, free-flight was potentially the best: very low impact on roads, high intrinsic value, high spectator value, no noise and no pollution (excluding the suggestion of a possible chairlift to launch). Also, there are economic benefits: pilots would likely visit from all over the Southeast. Maybe a school would open. (Developing this new flying site is still a possibility if anyone reading this wants to pursue it further.)

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Ready to launch at the Tater Hill Open (photo by Anna Kay von Dueszeln)

Another thing I’ve learned is a good site surely brings instructors wanting to use it. When that happens, think about what that means before you say yes or no. Do you want a lot of inexperienced people flying your site? Do you trust the instructor to respect the site as much as you do? If someone gets hurt, killed, or simply needs a tree rescue, will that jeopardize the site? If a school leases the site but then one day goes away, will this directly affect your site? Other considerations: is the site too complicated for paragliding such that only the most-skilled can fly there? Is the glide to the LZ too far for a beginner wing? Most importantly, what will happen if they don't make the LZ and land in the wrong field? How tough do you have to be on the pilot who errs and — how tough will the landowner be on the pilot? Remember we have no right to trespass. If you have a site where none of this matters, consider yourself lucky, good or both! Most pilots don't like rules, so you need to know how sensitive your site is, how many rules are needed, how are they enforced, and who enforces them?

Most pilots have good intentions, but if a club comes together to buy or lease a site, a little long-term thinking is certainly warranted. All concerned should be ready for the day the group becomes smaller, people quit flying or lose interest, or just don't have time to devote to their once beloved sport. I’ve seen that it usually comes down to one or two people doing almost all the leg-work.

Owning a site is an amazing thing, and in my case, it’s a small miracle. It’s also a great responsibility. We are preserving free-flight in a country where, due to a lot of reasons, our freedom in the skies is shrinking. The fear of getting sued is a real and present danger and only exacerbates the shrinkage. Finding new sites, or at least new good sites, is getting harder all the time. Are the best days of finding flying sites behind us? Maybe, but there are still pilots looking for that new site to fly from. We should find ways to support those pioneers as much as we can.

Volunteer opportunities

  • If you would wish to volunteer to help update the Site Development/Management Manual (since the current one is somewhat dated) please contact me and I will put you in touch with the working group which is doing this.
  • If you would wish to volunteer to assist in opening a flying site at Mountain City, TN, please contact me and I will put you in touch with other individuals with the same interest.

Larry Dennis
USHPA Region Nine Director
Chair - Site Development & Chapter Support Committee
[email protected]

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