May 20, 2009


By John Briggs
Free Press Staff Writer

An 18-basket disc golf course isn’t coming to Burlington’s Leddy Park.

The Parks and Recreation Commission made that decision Tuesday before a crowd of about 60.

The commissioners did agree by a 4-1 vote to consider a 9-basket course at Leddy if it were professionally designed with input from the city arborist and county forester to minimize its impact on the woods and was located east of the parking lot and west of the athletic field and well away from high traffic areas. They made clear that their openness to consider such a plan didn’t suggest they would approve it.

Commissioner Dave Hartnett voted against the smaller course, saying it made little sense reviewing plans for a course that wouldn’t be suitable for disc golf tournaments. He said it would be preferable to find a location in the city suitable for an 18-basket course.

Disc golf is scored like traditional golf but uses Frisbee-like discs that are aimed at a basket on a pole.Parks Director Wayne Gross recommended that the course not be built. In a memo to the commission he said the estimated 1,000 disc golfers who would use the course each week could impinge on the quiet in the Leddy Park woods and lead to “significant” soil and root impaction that could allow “the spread of non-native invasive (plant) species.”

Gross concluded the course “would have a significant adverse impact” on the Leddy Park woods. “Given the strong public support for preserving the natural qualities of these woodlands,” he said, “I recommend that a disc golf course not be built in Leddy Park.”

Mayor Bob Kiss also weighed in, telling the commission in a memo Tuesday that as the discussion has moved along, “it’s become clearer to me that disc golf is not an appropriate activity for Leddy Park in the areas where it’s proposed and I recommend against it.”

Gross and the commission approved the proposal last summer from the BTown Disc Golf Club to build the course and, without involving the public in the decision, allowed the group to begin cutting fairways through the woods under the supervision of the city arborist.

Within days, it became clear that a sizable number of residents didn’t want a course through the woods, citing concerns about alcohol use, increased traffic and noise and damage to the woods. Others were outraged that the work began without the public having been given a chance to comment.

A crowd of about 150 turned out Sept. 3 for a tumultuous public meeting, and Gross apologized for not informing them before work began. Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the course. The disc golf group also drew many supporters.

Gross put an end to additional work on the course in early September, and the commission created a seven-person working group that throughout the winter studied the issue. They drew a crowd of about 100 to the Miller Recreation Center when they reported their views to the commission in late April. The group divided 4-3 in favor of the course.

Tuesday’s compromise proposal for a smaller course will not be the last word on the issue. In September the City Council indicated it wanted to get involved if work on the course were to resume. Gross suggested the commission notify the council of Tuesday’s decision.After the meeting some opponents of disc golf made clear their unhappiness with the commission’s willingness to review a 9-basket course at Leddy Park. “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to have any disc golf (there),” Jim Court said.

Mark Barlow, another opponent, said disc golf would change the character of the park. He said he is unhappy the issue might be revisited.

Adam Quinn, a member of the BTown club, said he was encouraged that the commission had overcome “a lot of misinformation” from opponents of the course and understood that “it’s a great sport, a safe sport and compatible with Leddy Park.”

Commissioner Carolyn Hanson spent several minutes before announcing her vote chastising some in the crowd for their manners during the nine-month debate.

“I have felt at times attacked,” she said. She commended the working group for sticking at its work in an unpleasant atmosphere and said she was disappointed that some public meetings erupted in “claps and hisses and boos” as individuals spoke.

She said that some in the debate displayed “a very intense mentality that is not good for our community.”

Note: Many in the audience were dismayed at the mentality displayed by some parks commission members. It is not good for our community to have people on a city commission with so little regard for public opinion.