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The return of the Great Disc Golf Debate

Monday, August 25, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Pease Park Master Plan has opened old wounds in Austin’s disc golf community.

In 2010, the city shut down the park’s disc golf course. Four years later, outrage over its closing persists. A recommendation to keep the course closed was met with vocal opposition at the Environmental Board on Wednesday. On the other side, members of the Pease Park Conservancy strongly objected to the idea of returning disc golf to the park.

Environmental Board members voted unanimously to table the item in order to give its water quality regulations and development committees time to take a closer look at the master plan.

Parks and Recreation Department Preservation Planner & Cultural Resource Specialist Kim McKnight explained that her department had worked “very hard” to provide alternatives, including opening a $300,000 disc course at the Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park and collaborating with the Watershed Protection Department to make $200,000 worth of improvements to the Zilker Park Disc Golf Course. Additionally, the city runs disc golf courses at Bartholomew Park, Mary Moore Searight Park and Circle C.

Waterloo Disc Golf Club President Gordon Kelly said that a course could be operated sustainably at Pease Park.

“Even the Parks Department and Watershed admitted that disc golf was not the reason Pease Park looked so bad,” said Kelly. “It was other users, it was flooding, it was lack of parks department maintainable in the park.”

Kelly, like others, expressed frustration that they were erroneously led to believe the removal of the course was only temporary. Many members of the disc golf community expressed concern that Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley had already decided not to re-establish the course before the public process took place.

Former Urban Forestry Board Member and Pease Park Conservancy Vice Chair Dan VanTreeck said that while he enjoyed disc golf himself, the Pease Park course had caused a great deal of environmental damage.

“What’s getting me is the trees that have been killed in the park as a result of disc golf … I’ve removed 250-plus trees that were dead. We had to take them down because of danger,” said VanTreeck. “One side of the tree looks like someone had taken a machine gun down the side of the tree and just rat-a-tat. Once the bark is cut 50 percent around the tree, it dies.”

Pease Park was established in 1875 when Governor Elisha M. Pease donated the land to the city. A partnership between the city and the Pease Park Conservancy has raised more than $200,000 for the master plan.

Pease Park Conservancy Chair Richard Craig spoke in favor of the plan. His group got involved in 2008 and has since planted 6,000 trees, raised more than $600,000 and secured a permanent endowment for the park. He said that they soon realized a master plan would be necessary, given the increasing density of the park’s surroundings and fragile ecosystem.

“The only way to really arm it for the future … was to do the master plan,” said Craig. “This is a very precious commodity, and we feel like it deserves the very best plan. That’s what we feel like we’ve got.”

At this stage, the plan is conceptual and envisions improvements over the next 20 to 25 years. McKnight explained that several different city departments are expected to provide funds, though there is no current city funding. She added that the plan would help the conservancy with fundraising as well, which will help pay for planning and maintenance.

McKnight said the plan had several major recommendations, including expanding the tree canopy “immensely” through planting trees and erosion control; adapting historic Tudor cottage restrooms; adding additional restrooms; and improving and expanding trails.

“I’ve tried my best to condense what is an extremely comprehensive plan, with an incredible natural resource component. It’s unprecedented, in my view,” said McKnight. “We’ve never had this level of analysis, inventory and recommendations.”

Jeremy Croak, a Waterloo Disc Golf member, asked the board to vote against the plan because of this, despite supporting the larger vision of the plan. “Unfortunately, without disc golf, I feel like it’s incomplete, and a plan that we can’t support,” said Croak.

“The current plan, as it stands, is funded by a vocal minority that is located primarily within the Pease Park neighborhood,” Croak added. “Unfortunately, the public process didn’t take into consideration the community’s support for disc golf in the park. It was never a consideration.”

McKnight assured the board that Eeyore’s Birthday Party would continue, and its organizers had been very involved and supportive of the process.

The master plan is currently scheduled to go before City Council on Oct. 16.

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