More than a dozen YouTube videos document fearless teens with windmilling arms throwing themselves off a 50-foot cliff into Lake Byllesby.
One shows a kid tapping the “No trespassing on cliff by order of sheriff’s dept” sign and ducking under it as he heads to the popular jumping site near Cannon Falls.
“They’re well-produced, I’ll give them that,” Goodhue County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kris Johnson said of the videos. But, he added, “It’s not the kind of advertisement we’d like to see. What they don’t show is the people walking off with droopy faces and a ticket in hand.”
Sheriff’s deputies are cracking down on people who trespass on the private property, owned by the Boy Scouts of America, and leap off the dangerous cliff. So far this year, law enforcement fined 73 people for trespassing on the site, Sgt. Scott Powers said.
That’s down from a couple of years ago, Powers said, crediting tougher enforcement. But people who live on the lake say harsher penalties may be needed.
The focus on certain areas of one lake is draining Goodhue County’s patrol resources, Powers said. Sometimes road patrol deputies have to respond to calls of cliff jumpers. It takes them a while to get to the lake, which borders Dakota County on the northwestern edge of Goodhue County, and then walk to the cliffs.
“They spend an inordinate amount citing cliff jumpers,” Earl Benson, president of the Lake Byllesby Improvement Association, said of law enforcement. At an association meeting this month, residents plan to talk with Sheriff’s Office staff about getting even tougher and potentially increasing the fines for jumpers.
The Boy Scouts are happy to see the enforcement, said John Andrews, executive director of the Northern Star Council. The organization learned last week that the cliff jumping problem had arisen again. They dealt with it 15 or 20 years ago, he said, but the council has not heard many concerns since then.
Boy Scouts staff will be meeting with county officials soon to check out the site and discuss fencing, Andrews said.
Cliff jumping at Lake Byllesby has been around for decades. Benson, a longtime lakeside resident and now a grandfather, remembers doing it in high school.
But its popularity has grown — primarily due to social media, Johnson said, with more people coming from out of town to test their courage on the sandstone bluffs.
For those not familiar with the area, the terrain can be particularly dangerous, Benson said. The water depth below the cliffs varies, and if someone jumps too short they could end up in just a few feet of water. The ledges are made of unstable sandstone that can come off in chunks.
“The stone peeling off is probably as dangerous as jumping,” Benson said. “You don’t want to take away recreation, but there is dangerous recreation and you can’t sit with your head in the sand.”
In early July, a jumper cast himself off the cliff and landed on people canoeing below, Powers said.
The canoers were not injured, he said, but the man who jumped was taken to the hospital. There have been other people seriously injured at the cliffs, Powers said. He did not know of any deaths at the site.
Currently, the punishment is a $50 civil trespass fine. A second offense lands a $200 fine, and a third nets an offender $500.
However, Powers said, repeat offenders are rare.