Have you visited Mooney Grove Park recently? If you have, you have probably seen the park to be in fairly despicable shape. It’s true that the drought has significantly impacted the condition of the park and the health of the trees, but there seems to be another issue that is causing negative impact to the trees and surrounding grounds: disc golf courses.
What is disc golf, you ask? Good question. The people who play disc golf call it “the best sport you’ve never heard of.” It’s Frisbee thrown into baskets like a golf ball gets hit into a hole. It’s been around since the ‘70’s, when a guy near Watsonville created it using regular Frisbees.
Tulare County’s very own Parks and Recreation Manager, Neil Pilegard, was a card-carrying member of the Disc Golf Association until just recently, when he let his membership run out, according to emails uncovered through The Real Mooney Grove Project’s Public Records Act investigation.
The discussions in the emails detailed soliciting sponsors for tournaments at Mooney Grove Park during county time. Another park under his jurisdiction, the Kings River Nature Preserve, up near the north Tulare County border, by Kingsburg, boasts a Pro Disc Golf Course, which seems very out of place for a nature preserve. It seems that something involving a man-made structure or edifice at a nature preserve, should be something that enhances the visitor’s experience at the preserve, like a hands-on museum for kids, or walking trails outlining the vegetation and habitats of indigenous creatures, not a disc golf course which does none of that.
Although disc golf, also known as Frisbee golf, seems like it would be harmless, there have been multiple environmental impact studies showing that disc golf discs are damaging to trees beyond repair or salvage. Since June 4, there have been no less than 30 trees removed from Mooney Grove for various reasons: damage, drought, insect infestation and etc.
When Jean Rousseau, chief administrative officer, and John Hess, senior administrative analyst, were asked about the trees being removed in the park, neither man stated that they had been made aware of any damage done specifically by disc golf discs. However, both men agreed that the information provided was worth investigating further.
Hess stated that the disc golf courses have been in Mooney Grove for about 10 years.
He agreed that what might be happening now is the impact of the disc golf coupled with drought conditions, but he needed to physically go out to the tree locations and check them out for himself. Rousseau acknowledged that the discs used in disc golf are definitely more capable of causing damage than a regular Frisbee, and are significantly more difficult to throw, but he had not heard of the negative impact before.
Although both men are very busy and have seemingly missed this concern until now, the information about the negative environmental impacts of disc golf courses has been out there for a while. The Santa Cruz County Parks Commission outlined some concerns about disc golf courses at their parks in the report titled “Pinto Lake Disc Golf Course Concerns: process for Approval, Environmental Impacts, and Current Management, June 30, 2012”.
An excerpt of the findings states:
We have observed and photographed trees with severe bark damage from discs, seasonal creeks trampled by players, and acres of vegetation that have been entirely removed from sloped hillsides, sending sediment and agricultural run-off into the lake. Areas of the lakeshore marked as out-of-bounds are continually being disturbed by players looking for and retrieving mis-thrown discs.
And the concerns are noted in other places in the country as well. In 2011, the International Journal of Sports Management, Recreation and Tourism, partnering with the University of Tennessee, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport Studies, stated the following:
Despite the popularity of the sport, environmentalists have voiced concerns over the environmental impacts (LeClerc, Che, Swaddle, & Cristol, 2005; Lawrence, 2010). In spite of many environmental advantages disc golf seemingly has over traditional golf (e.g., no chemicals needed to keep the field green, no cutting of trees in order to design the course), there have been some recent environmental concerns associated with the sport (Estrella, 2005; Gascoyne, 2005; LeBlanc, 2006; McCaughan, 2004). For instance, some disc golf courses in California have already been closed because of the environmental problems associated with excessive use and lack of a management plan. More specifically, some of the disturbing concerns are destruction of undergrowth plants because of high foot traffic, damage to the bark of the trees from discs, and soil erosion and compaction. These concerns introduce new challenges to sport managers and planners of outdoor sport activities in urban settings.
The University of Tennessee report notes that soil erosion was found in every sample. The significance of the erosion depended upon the type of soil, but it was found nonetheless.
Mooney Grove Park is first and foremost an oak preserve, but our precious oak trees are being destroyed and not properly preserved. It would seem that if disc golf is causing damage to our precious trees, then it needs to be removed from the park, not the precious oaks that were entrusted to the people of Tulare County to protect and preserve.
Amy Dickinson Campbell is a Visalia resident and a member of The Real Mooney Grove Project.