May 1, 2009

Comments on video posted at Seven Days

Comment, Maeve Cohen [North End resident]

Thanks for covering this issue. From the video it appears that you could use more insight into why people are opposed to disc golf in Leddy Park. I have lived on Fern Street which borders the park for the past year, and have been a Burlington resident for 16 years. I walk through the Leddy Park woods to the beach on a daily basis. Prior to that I lived in the South End of Burlington and have been traveling to Leddy Park many years. While I am now a direct neighbor of this park, I had just as much interest and concern for protection of this small slice of urban woodland while living elsewhere in Burlington. The people in opposition to disc golf in the woods have been characterized in your piece as just a group of neighbors near the park, and that is not true. This jewel of a park belongs to everyone in Burlington.

In making this decision about disc golf it is extremely important to consider how this area of the city has grown since Leddy Park was loosely classified as recreational space. I met a business owner in the North Avenue plaza who grew up on Gosse Court, the very street where the Miller Center is now. When she was raised on Gosse Court there were only two houses on the street and it was actually still a dirt road. All along that street were woods where she played. This is not a deceased ancestor. This is a woman still alive and working, so the changes to the New North End in terms of open space have happened in a very short time. Today the entire North End is similar to Gosse Court -- one house after another, one street after another. Now that children and adults no longer have pockets of forest next to their homes anywhere in this suburban stretch, the Leddy Park woods are absolutely invaluable. Leddy is very much woven into the fabric of this neighborhood and this city as a place of respite and enjoyment which is by no means unused. The land must be carefully considered in the context of what we have left for open space now as opposed to when the city first acquired the park.

This decision also requires the important definition of what constitutes "recreation". The woman on the working group who raised the issue of defining what recreation means was speaking to the real heart of this matter. There are already several forms of competitive sports going on in Leddy Park. These activities are done mainly by children and young men. There is also walking and other forms of exercise done on the wooded trails, along with learning, observing nature, and just plain decompressing that is made possible by access to these rare beautiful woods by the lake. These activities seem to be done mostly by mothers with young children and middle-age/older men and women. Elders tend to get their exercise by walking, and many express a deep enjoyment of walking in nature. I would hope that this form of recreation is not to be discounted by Parks and Rec. Are elders and others who don't do organized sports less entitled to use these woods for their form of recreation? When I walk in the woods I am "active". This IS recreational use of this park. Because an activity is not competitive does not mean that it should be labeled as "passive". Passive recreation is an outdated term for describing recreation and I believe activities should be defined as competitive or non-competitive.

If the City Council truly is committed to the Burlington Livable Community Project which is looking to improve life for the future demographic changes which are coming to this city, then the prospect of a relatively small sporting group altering a priceless natural park is a very, very big issue. In the future demographic shift which is already occurring this park would be used by an even larger population of seniors. The Burlington Livable Community Project can be researched on the web. It's very much related to this debate in Leddy Park.

While at the public meeting the other night, I was surrounded on all sides by proponents of disc golf. As the elder women spoke of birds, animals, quietude, these people sat snickering and making audible mocking comments. This repulsed me, and I couldn't help but think, "Is this the kind of person we want more of in the woods of Leddy Park???" Do I want to walk in the woods near people who make snide remarks about grandmothers who grew up with this park? Is this the kind of integrity that makes Burlington the caring city that it is?" Certainly not. I venture to guess it could have been the same people who stole all the yellow signs directing people to the meeting.

I myself am not a senior citizen, just someone who has not lost a connection with nature. I am raising two children and have spent much time with my family in Leddy Park. There is a palpable sense of wonder when we enter the woods from the neighborhood. My toddler always wants to get out of the stroller and discover a different world. He says with awe, "We're in the WOODS now!" And he asks about how the tree fell over, or why those mushrooms grow on the branches, or what was that bird saying?" How can it be described to people who see a forest as a place to be trampled for yet more organized sporting... how can it be described that it is of incredible value to be able to show our children a world other than a plastic sterile playground with uniform wood chips, noise and car exhaust in the air?

When my oldest son was small we lived in downtown Burlington and as a single parent I did not have a car. I used to take him on the bus out here to Leddy Park frequently to explore the woods and enjoy the beach. Not everyone in this town has cars as most of the disc golfers do. Not everyone in this city is able to take their children out of town to the country for a river swim, to the mountains for skiing, to Florida in winter for vacation. I think it's safe to say that most of the college students around Burlington and others who play disc golf have the ability to do those things. But Leddy Park belongs to ALL of the residents in this city. Leddy, in its present state is an invaluable piece of beauty for everyone, including those with no cars and little money to take their kids to experience nature outside of town. It's on a bus route. I used it all the time. My children benefitted immensely from these outings we called little vacations. Now I am lucky enough to live right next to this gem of a park which currently offers a perfect balance of recreation for those who like competitive organized sports, as well for those who like walking, observing wildlife, breathing fresh air, and swimming at an uncrowded beach.

Lastly, my biggest concern of all is one which no one has mentioned yet, and that is the beach itself. I go to Leddy Beach every single day during the warm months, whether it is on my morning walk, or to bring my kids for a swim. I choose to go to Leddy over other beaches precisely because of the character of this beach. It does not have large groups of people drinking alcohol, smoking, playing loud music, and making vociferous comments about women as they walk by. There are no lifeguards, no whistles blowing, and people are free to just have a calm day in a beautiful place. In short, Leddy Beach does not have these negative things which I'm certain would change if large groups were coming down to the beach after their games and tournaments. I go to Leddy Beach because it is an amazing, pristine, peaceful and safe place to enjoy the lake. Everyone is there because they truly appreciate the location and they want to be there, and not as a place to drink some beer and hang out with a crowd after a game. If disc golf were allowed into the woods, then this beloved beach would change drastically. People have talked of the pollution of the lake with the increased run-off of car oil in the parking lot. What about the immediate beach water? What would become of the clear water with a parking lot full of cars?

I am kept awake at night with the prospect of this unthinkable mistake happening to Leddy Beach and Park. I urge the decision-makers not to allow disc golf to go into Leddy Park and destroy the walking paths and beach which are absolute treasures to the residents of Burlington. I for one, would no longer take my two-year-old walking in the woods with discs flying. We would be unable to use that precious sanctuary that I have enjoyed for 16 years, and some seniors have cherished their whole lives. Having access to nature is every bit as important to a healthy city as adding another competitive sport for a relative few. I think that disc golf is a fine activity in an appropriate place. It should not under any circumstances, be located in Leddy Park.

Maeve Cohen [North End resident]


Comment, Brendan Bush, Disc Golf Technical Adviser: great video Eva.