Disc golf clears next-to-last hurdle
Commission narrowly approved courses in Upper Park
The disc-golf courses in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park occupy 38 acres, about 1 percent of the park’s 3,670 acres, but at the Monday meeting of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, they were the only acres in the park that seemed to matter.
The commissioners had two jobs to do that night (Aug. 25): certify the final environmental-impact report on the park’s new master management plan, and decide which of four disc-golf options to support. Options A, B and C would build new courses, while Option D—the “restoration option"—would remove the existing courses.
About 50 people stepped forward to speak, almost all about disc golf.
In the end, after nearly five hours of often passionate discussion, the commission voted to certify the EIR and (by a 4-3 vote) recommend to the City Council that new disc-golf courses be built.
The disc-golf issue has been festering for years. Golfers built the two current courses, one long, one short, on a bluff off Highway 32 about five miles east of town nearly 20 years ago, before the city owned the land. The issue came to a head about five years ago, when the city authorized more than $200,000 to improve the courses.
That decision was challenged by environmentalists, who insisted the master management plan be finished first. The city agreed and used the money to pay for the plan; meanwhile, play continued and in fact increased, but golfers were ordered not to do any maintenance on the site. They acknowledge that it has deteriorated as a result.
Speakers at Monday’s meeting divided into roughly two camps: those who believed disc golf was incompatible with the site, wanted the land restored to its natural state and disc-golf courses built elsewhere, and those who believed the courses had become a valuable part of the community’s recreational mix, could be improved so as to be environmentally sensitive and should be kept.
Both positions were credible. As one speaker noted, “everyone is right” about the issue. It was noticeable, though, that the pro-golf group had a lot more kids and young families on its side. Nobody knows even roughly how many people use the course, but it’s a lot.
Matt Smith, owner of Sports LTD, said that since 1999 he’d sold 12,700 discs and was currently selling about 200 a month. “This is 1 percent of the park returning a tremendous amount of satisfaction to kids and families,” he said.
Chicoan Matt Meuter, who plays the courses with his children, described a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son, who said: “Dad, if people aren’t allowed to have fun there, it’s not much of a park, is it?”
But is having fun the highest priority? Jane Turney, who lives in Chico but teaches elementary school in Oroville, responded: “Teaching kids that having fun is more important than protecting the integrity of a natural setting is wrong.”
There were other arguments against the courses—that they were contrary to Annie Bidwell’s original requirement that the land remain wild, that they would further tax an already overburdened park maintenance staff, that the mitigation measures in the EIR were inadequate to protect the blue oaks and sensitive wildflowers on the site, that the courses were reachable only by car.
Golf supporters extolled the site, with its varied terrain and magnificent vistas, as a “challenging and magical” play area. Disc golf, they argued, was “like taking a walk with a Frisbee” and no more harmful to the park than mountain biking, horseback riding and other activities allowed in Upper Park.
Jennifer Oman, who has worked as a naturalist educator, said the site was a good way to introduce kids to nature. At a time when “nature-deficit disorder” among children is a recognized problem, she said, “I think you sometimes have to use the very thing you want to conserve to inspire others to conserve.”
John Merz, who’s on the Chico Planning Commission, said the issue isn’t disc golf; it’s the location of these courses, which is all wrong. There are other places where courses could go—he mentioned DeGarmo Park, Community Park, Lindo Channel, the yet-to-be-built Henshaw Park, and the proposed Schuster/Brouhard development in southeast Chico.
In the end, the commission was as deeply divided on the issue as the audience.
Tom Barrett, Lisa Emmerich and Richard Ober supported the so-called “restoration option,” which would have eliminated the courses. David Wood, Michael Candela and Steve Lucas supported a motion by Jim Walker to recommend Option A, which allows two 18-hole courses—one short, one long—on the site. The facility will also feature a parking lot and a trailhead access point.
Walker’s motion called for use of Proposition 40 funds to build the courses but for operation and maintenance to be the responsibility of disc golfers. It also called for the city to review the arrangement periodically to make sure it’s working. If not, “the city can close it,” he said.
The issue now goes to the City Council.