Dock Blocked

A series of tubes

A series of tubes

Editor’s Note: Presented here is an article from the summer of 2010 about the end of a once storied Sophomore Summer legacy, Tubestock. The original article that is reprinted for your pleasure was penned by David Lumbert ‘12, a then contributor to The Dartmouth Review. Chase Landry ‘17 has provided some updates in the five years since this original article’s publication.

Dartmouth is a school of unremitting traditions, of outdoor activities and life opportunities left to posterity. Tubestock was once such a tradition enshrined during each summer when thousands of students took to the Connecticut River to celebrate life in a blowup inflatable. It’s the simple things that provide the most enjoyment, and Dartmouth students know that the best.

Today, many students are unfamiliar with Tubestock. Its very name suggests to students a retrograde vernacular of unknown origin: “Is this a tails theme? Either way, I’m going as Serena Williams.” “Ohh that’s the new strain from Cali, bro. This weekend will be the best time I probably won’t remember.” “I don’t even care what that is. Let’s listen to the new Kanye and drink Cutter instead.” You get the picture. Sometimes, students just want to be able to sit in a float and drink 104 calorie beers with no redeeming qualities of the palate. They just want to take life 12 ounces at a time while floating down the Connecticut. It’s America, and that’s what we do. Summer time life should resemble a Kenny Chesney song of a tropical oasis in the sun, so we attempt to impose that impossible standard in our $7.99 float, in the comfort of the Connecticut current with no known shark attacks.

But every good tradition is often met with some contention, often by the rather archetypal geriatric town antagonists. This time, the stakes were no different.

Tubestock’s official demise was just over nine years ago, when the town of Hanover enacted public ordinances that ban open alcohol containers on bodies of water and unauthorized outdoor activities. A state law, passed previously that June, further stipulates that any person who participates in a non-permitted water event will be fined and will be guilty of a misdemeanor violation. It seems that the only way to kill traditions is to codify it in law. And so the law stands, replacing a tradition with a restriction, a ban over an open beer can. Now, who’s got some air for these floats?

Welcome to Dartmouth 15X, y’all.

Below is the original piece written by David Lumbert.

After two nine-month winters in Hanover’s frigid weather, Dartmouth College sophomores were ready for the always exciting Sophomore Summer. They heard stories of students who started every summer day with a swim and alumni who reminisced on TubeStock and jumping off the Ledyard Bridge (now prohibited). The river is undoubtedly one of the biggest draws to Dartmouth and a concession for students sitting through endless 2As when the temperature outside approaches triple digits, living in dorms where the College refuses to turn on the air conditioning, and giving up any form of recognizable cuisine for DDS dishes. Browse online message boards for prospective students and you will find plenty of proud alums and current students promoting sophomore summer as the best time of their lives. They boast about the close relationships they form with other sophomores, stargazing for astronomy, and of course swimming in the cool Connecticut River. And this summer, students came from all over the world to rip their own page out of the Sophomore Summer fairy tale… or so they thought.

Enter April Thompson. After less than two months in her new position of associate Dean of the College for Campus Life, Dean Thompson informed the campus of a decision that would change the community forever: an unidentified “we” made the choice to close the river dock and ban swimming at the College. The message, entitled “Summer Updates”, described dining options available this summer and offered Thompson’s hope that sophomores were ready to get back into summer recreation. Then, the bombshell:

For safety reasons, the Connecticut River swim docks will be closed. A recent safety review identified a range of concerns that led us to conclude that the swimming area at the River cannot be safely maintained. The water at the swim dock is 18 feet deep and drops off rapidly to 25 feet. The depth, combined with the murky water and extremely poor visibility makes it difficult or impossible for lifeguards to see anything or anyone below the surface. In addition, the current in the River varies rapidly because of unscheduled draw-downs through the dam a couple of miles downstream and there is often submerged debris that swimmers may not be able to see prior to entering the water.

Could it be? Were sophomores lied to as they read the Dartmouth Outing Club’s website that stated (and continues to state) “The Connecticut River Waterfront is a busy place throughout the warm-weather months, providing canoeing and kayaking for the community as well as a swimming area for Dartmouth students… Swim docks are provided (for enrolled Dartmouth students) along the river just north of Ledyard Bridge?” What type of perverse system were we living in where Safety and Security officers would start patrolling the once-loved waters and students would be forced to risk injury and punishment by swimming in other unknown areas? Was this the end of a tradition dating as far back as John Wheelock? Perhaps this was another example of TubeStock or the recent elimination of BlitzMail, out with the old, in with the new. Many thought sophomore summer as they knew it was finished, but thankfully Dean Thompson had an alternative.

As one alternative, students enrolled this summer will have FREE use of Storrs Pond… As many of you may know, the Storrs Pond Recreation Area, operated by the Hanover Improvement Society, is located only minutes from campus next to the College’s Oak Hill recreation area. The Area features scenic woodlands, a man-made 13-acre pond and two sandy swimming beaches, a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, a basketball court, a beach volleyball court and picnic areas. The beach at Storrs Pond is open sunrise to sunset. The pool is open daily from noon to 7 pm. Campsites are also available, and student use of Storrs Pond facilities may include use of one of the picnic pavilion areas by the pond for class events.

Storrs Pond, famous for birthday parties until children reach ten, proved to be a difficult option for Dartmouth students looking for a place to beat the heat. The pond is 3.5 miles away from the Ledyard Canoe Club and it takes about one hour to walk there from campus. Luckily, a transportation system has been created to bring students from Collis to Storrs Pond every thirty minutes on Saturday and Sunday from 12-5. No word yet from student environmental groups on the carbon footprint these buses are leaving in the Upper Valley.

Now that an alternative to the river dock was in place, many inside the administration likely thought the issue was over and sophomores felt nothing but anger for another decision made without any student consultation. Canoes and kayaks were made available to students for free and an Independence Day party was planned at Storrs Pond to promote the new option. But one Dartmouth student saw this as the beginning, not the end of a war.

Travis Blalock ‘12, a straight-talking advocate for truth, freedom, and the breaststroke, decided to take the fight to open the docks to the biggest place on Earth: Facebook. On June 26, just three days after the message from Dean Thompson, Blalock started what he describes as a “movement for social justice…a coalition for the truth.” The simple Facebook group has now attracted more than 720 current students, alumni, and random members Blalock shrewdly calls “friends of the College”. With over 30 comments as of press time, alumni and students have shared fond memories of the river docks and their disapproval at the current policy.

On June 28, Blalock sent an open letter to Dean Thompson with three requests:

First, your e-mail noted a “safety review” had been conducted that concluded “the swimming area at the River cannot be safely maintained”. We challenge you to release this review and documentation detailing its creation, along with a list of safety experts consulted, to the public so it can be scrutinized and students can become better informed of the dangers around us. Second, we would like you or a representative of this decision to engage in a public debate at a time and location most convenient for you. There is no better way to foster discussion and learning than allowing debate on an important issue. Finally, we ask you to allow for an independent investigation into the safety of the river, and open the docks pending the results of such study. Dartmouth researchers are among the greatest in the world and can surely come to an unbiased decision.

Blalock received no response from Dean Thompson and according to a Facebook message sent to group members by Blalock, “Some have said the administration is afraid, others have said they know they’ll lose. But for me, it’s not about fear or victory, I just want the truth.” Thompson may not have responded, but the movement drew the attention of local media. Jim Kenyon of the Valley News wrote an article on July 11 entitled “Dry Docks”, in which he highlighted the absurdity of the new policy and suggested the administration’s next step may be to force students to wear helmets while walking across the green in fears of a meteor shower. Likewise, The Daily Dartmouth has quoted Blalock, DarTV interviewed him for a featured story, and Dartblog highlighted his “Kennedyesque rhetorical brio.”

Facebook groups may be helpful for informing the masses of injustice at Dartmouth and allowing old friends to reminisce on TubeStock, but to save the river dock, someone had to stop complaining and start doing.

Blalock saw an opportunity when, on July 9, President Kim announced to campus that “we are launching a major initiative for a Presidential Lecture Series to take place each summer” and that Michael Bloomberg, New York City mayor, would deliver the inaugural address. Additionally, free Boloco vouchers would be offered to make the afternoon spicier. Save the River Dock founder Blalock would soon give the administration another reason to soil their pants.

Following in the footsteps of many Dartmouth students before him, Blalock organized “A Peaceful Assembly to Save the River” and wrote that the protest would “coincide with the start of the ‘Presidential Lecture Series’. We will not allow this administration to stonewall us anymore.” Blalock told The Review that several members of the coalition were eager to participate in this movement and he had heard from alumni who were planning to drive to campus from all over the region to join the protest. What happened next is a political maneuver of the sort more associated with Chicago than with Hanover.

A member of the class council, who Blalock declined to name in fears that “he was a pawn sent to do a king’s job,” contacted him and encouraged him to cancel the assembly. This assembly would both embarrass the College and force them to respond to the student body on how this decision was made. The member described the creation of a task force to study swimming options and the possibility of opening the docks in the future. He told Blalock the administration wanted him to join the task force and holding the assembly would only hurt their chances of working together. In an act of good faith, Blalock cancelled the protest and sent a message to his Facebook group entitled “Victory Is Near.”

In his speech, Mayor Bloomberg poked fun at the current situation shortly after boasting the first movie he downloaded on his iPad was Animal House.

Now I do realize that Bluto didn’t really go to Dartmouth, but knowing that I was coming to the campus that inspired one of my all-time favorite movies really was pretty exciting. And of course I look forward to eating a meal at Homeplate and taking a dip in the Connecticut River but it looks like those two options are out. Sorry about that. College today is very different than when I went to college.

In an effort to make a serious situation into a further joke, President Kim summarized Bloomberg’s points by saying, “So in closing, Mayor Bloomberg, you’ve told our students that they should party a lot, [and] swim in the Connecticut…” At least someone saw the absurdity of the situation, but how could the College justify an unsubstantiated decision that strips an age-old Dartmouth tradition from $50,000/year paying students? Create a task force!

This was a job for Acting Dean of the College, Dr. Sylvia Spears PhD. Shortly after Mayor Bloomberg’s lecture, Dean Spears sent a message to the student body to update them on swimming options, also signed by the Student Assembly president, the 2012 class council president and the vice president, and Dean Thompson. Spears wrote:

As you may already be aware, students and the Administration have been working together to develop and review proposals for the safe use of the waterfront. The Administration has reviewed the recommendations received to date and has concluded that we do not have viable alternatives that can be implemented this summer… None of us are happy with the current situation. We are committed to working together to find a safe and fun alternative for the summer. We will be working with Student Assembly to form a Task Force to explore longer term options for use of the College controlled areas of the waterfront. It will be very important that the Task Force members represent the breadth of the student community. In addition, College staff and faculty with particular areas of expertise will be asked to assist…

Apparently victory could not be farther away and one week after the decision was made public, Blalock has still not been contacted about a spot on the task force. One may think that bottlenecking the movement for over a month would put it to rest and the Dartmouth community would move on with acceptance, like so many other modifications of the once-great Dartmouth experience. This won’t stand for some professors who refuse to accept theory and have instead opted for something this administration fears: the facts.

Eager to address the real causes of the river dock closing, several members of the Dartmouth faculty have begun working with Blalock to create a team to perform a real safety report on the danger of swimming at the river dock. While this team is in the early stages of development, Blalock would like to have the report done in August to present to Dean Spears and others behind this decision. Perhaps the cost-benefit analyses in this report would warrant a cessation to the College’s current moratorium.

The Review may never know why the river dock that now sits in the Ledyard parking lot was closed this summer. So far this investigation has led to more questions than answers as the alleged safety review remains missing and students continue to swelter from Hanover heat. Is Dartmouth following in the footsteps of peer institutions that have closed their docks? Is there someone deep inside the administration who secretly opposes water recreation? Or is this closing just the tip of an iceberg that threatens to destroy the Dartmouth experience the College has promised its students? One must wonder what grade one would get on a research paper if one cited no sources, refused to conference with one’s professor on his conclusions, and never actually released the document for review.

Hopefully the Student Assembly task forces, along with the dedication for which Dartmouth students and faculty have become world famous, will find the one thing no one else seems willing to uncover: the truth. And as Frank Lloyd Wright so boldly said, “The truth is more important than the facts.”