Course on par?

Disc golf in Upper Park scrutinized on lead-up to contract renewal

Woody Elliott of the California Native Plant Society, photographed before Monday’s park commission meeting, says his contention is not with disc golf but the city’s adherence to the Peregrine Point agreement.

Woody Elliott of the California Native Plant Society, photographed before Monday’s park commission meeting, says his contention is not with disc golf but the city’s adherence to the Peregrine Point agreement.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Woody Elliott can’t recall exactly when he became concerned with disc golf in Upper Bidwell Park, but it’s been a while.

He remembers speaking publicly to the Chico City Council in the mid- to late-2000s, when community opinion divided sharply on whether the Frisbee target sport belongs in the park’s wild open spaces. Council opinion divided sharply, too: The panel first banned, then kept, the 18-hole long course at Peregrine Point that had operated unofficially for many years (see “Disk golf: It’s back! But wait…,” Newslines, Jan. 8, 2009)—and changed its mind several times before forming a plan to eventually relocate the site’s 12-hole short course (see “Disc golf a go,” Newslines, April 22, 2010).

Elliott intensified his focus when the city entered into an operating agreement with the disc-golfers group Chico Outsiders—known as Outside Recreation Advocacy Inc., or ORAI—in 2010. That’s also when he retired as a state parks land manager and became involved with Friends of Bidwell Park (FOBP), advocates who had opposed disc golf in Upper Park. He and other environmentalists, including FOBP, voiced concerns about effects on native species from disc hits and foot traffic.

Those worries persist for Elliott, conservation chair of the California Native Plant Society’s Mount Lassen chapter. He and current FOBP President John Merz also have an issue with how the city enforces its contract with ORAI, specifically in regards to financial obligations.

The agreement, which contains a monitoring and mitigation plan for Peregrine Point, runs in five-year increments—renewable automatically, but with exit clauses and reviews by the city each half-decade. The current period ends in June. Monday evening (Feb. 24), as part of the renewal process, the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission received an update on mitigation and monitoring.

Elliott told the CN&R before the meeting that he doesn’t take issue with disc-golfers in Upper Park.

“My overarching perspective is that disc golf course isn’t going away; it just needs to be managed properly, and someone needs to figure out how to do that,” he said. “Whether they partner with ORAI all or in part, or not at all, it’s the city’s responsibility to live up to their own adopted CEQA [state environmental] mitigation monitoring requirements, which are legally binding in a court of law.”

Taking Elliott’s input into account, the commission voted unanimously to have its Natural Resources Committee assess monitoring reports from city staff and wildlife surveys from biologists, then make recommendations on renewal—and any new conditions—to the full commission.

In a letter to commissioners, which he cited in public comments, Elliott listed seven “continuing need[s]” at the course, such as signage and protective devices around trees. Additionally, he pointed to inconsistent clauses in the contract: one calling for ORAI to pay the city $5,000 a year for biological monitoring (subject to 3 percent annual increases) and another calling for $3,000 every other year (with the value of volunteer hours offsetting this obligation). He said city staff has assessed ORAI only via the lesser, biennial arrangement.

Linda Herman, city park and natural resources director, summarized her report to the commission by saying, “I believe they [ORAI] have met their commitments,” and that “biological monitoring has shown no significant impacts” from the disc golf course. (Visit for the staff report, wildlife surveys and mitigation timelines.)

Commission Chair Elaina McReynolds, who visited the site Saturday, shared a similarly positive appraisal.

“I saw a vast improvement over last year,” she said. “I saw waddles set up [lining trails]. I saw … a beautiful layout of [wood] chips [around some targets]—I know more is coming. The fence to protect plants in the center is wonderful; I walked around it.”

After mentioning she spoke with two players who likewise were “very impressed,” McReynolds added: “I’m not sure how [ORAI] haven’t met their obligation. They’ve put a lot of hard work in.”

Our staff has put a lot of hard work in,” Commissioner Lise Smith-Peters injected.

Smith-Peters earlier said she felt the disc-golfers “have not met operating agreements” but that she looks “forward to working with the group through the Natural Resources Committee so we can get this done.”

Ultimately, though, the agreement may head back up to the City Council, as that body would need to approve any substantive change.

“There’s an internal inconsistency that’s never been addressed and needs to be addressed,” said Merz, a former member of both the park and planning commissions.

Like Elliott, Merz said his group doesn’t oppose disc golf at Peregrine Point—“We’ve moved on from that. But there was the understanding that you [disc-golfers] have to meet these obligations.”

Disc-golfer Scott Peterson attended the meeting after learning about it and ORAI from postings online. (ORAI’s board secretary, Phil Brock, declined to be interviewed for this story.) Peterson has lived in Chico five years, roughly the amount of time he’s played the sport. Diagnosed with Lyme disease, he recently lost his job in sales management in the gardening sector.

“There’s good and bad to that,” he told the CN&R outside the chambers. “I don’t have a lot of energy, but I have some time to go disc-golfing and walk through gorgeous places like Peregrine Point.”

Echoing what a speaker told the commission, Peterson said he’s struck by how disc-golfers bear the burden for park upkeep while bikers, hikers, equestrians and golfers do not.

“In broader strokes,” Peterson said, “I’m a person who cares very much about the environment, but I’ve also learned to care about disc golf—and, in the past five or six years, I’ve learned how well those two things are actually working together.”