Two recent acts of vandalism at the disc golf course in Upper Bidwell Park have environmentalists and disc golfers once again at each other’s throats. Nobody knows for sure who or what is behind the acts, but this hasn’t stopped either group from blaming the other for the misdeeds.
On one side, environmentalists opposed to disc golfing on the site speculate that golfers are the ones who have been removing Butte County checkerbloom (Sidalcea robusta) plants, which some say are endangered, from the disc golf course area the past couple of months.
On the other side, disc golfers are suggesting that environmentalists are behind the vandalism that hit the golf course last week, when one or more people removed eight tone poles, five from the beginner course and three from the advanced, and demolished two makeshift benches. The Park Department estimates the damage’s cost at $1,000.
Shortly after disc golfers discovered the destruction, a disc golf Web site message board pointed the finger at “enviro-nazis.”
This initial anger, however has subsided, at least when discussing the issue publicly.
Lon Glazner, a disc golfer and webmaster for the Chico Disc Golf Club Web site said, “You don’t want to make any accusations, but because the vandalism is specific to the disc golf course, my assumption is that it is one or two people on the fringe of opposition to disc golf.”
Josephine Guardino, a member of Friends of Bidwell Park, the group leading the opposition to the disc golf course, denied the allegation. “I doubt it was environmentalists [responsible for the vandalism] because it was very random,” she said. “It was most likely people wanting to take the poles home.”
On the other hand, Guardino said that a study done by an independent botanist confirms that the checkerbloom plants were not simply picked by the average park patron or grazed by deer, but uprooted in bulk. Her implication was the only the disc golfers would have motive to do something like that.
“The park is listed as having 300 patches of checkerbloom, yet there is all this uproar over one patch on the disc golf course,” Gregg Payne, a disc golfer who implemented the park’s two courses a decade ago asked rhetorically.
Bob Donahue, senior park ranger, said that the plants are indeed abundant in Butte County, and that the Butte County checkerbloom is listed only as “sensitive” rather than endangered. The species, in fact, appears on the California Native Plant Society’s list of “rare, threatened, or endangered” (not specified) plants in Butte County, but not on federal or state lists.
In an effort to appease both players and preservers, the Park Department is in the process of hiring a consultant to create a course layout that accommodates sensitive plant areas, which means that some targets will have to be removed.
Random or not, the vandalism has created a setback for disc golf players. “It was sad to see people playing without poles,” said Payne. “It’s just more work that I have to do to replace them.”
And replace them he has. About a week after the vandalism, Payne has made nine new tone poles. “The faster the return [of poles], the less satisfaction whoever did this has,” he reasoned.
One positive upshot of the vandalism, from the golfers’ perspective, is that it has spotlighted the sport and the issues surrounding it, including the effort to gain a permanent course from the city.
“This act [of vandalism] has generated support for this recreation, and I think disc golfers will be encouraged to pay more attention [to what’s going on],” Glazner said.
At its next meeting, on July 14, the park’s Master Management Planning Committee will be discussing a course of action for disc golf, whether that be keeping the existing location and putting in permanent targets or moving it elsewhere, possibly to Lower Bidwell Park.
For the time being, though, the debate over proper park usage—recreation or preservation—rages on.