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It’s nature lovers vs. disc golfers in Niagara County parks | Local News

Jim McCarthy loves the simple formula of disc golf: Get outdoors. Throw a disc around. Have fun while enjoying the nature.

While he also bird-watches, he believes there is merit to doing a physical challenge and disc golf has been just the right one for his family, serving as a bonding activity between him and his son for the past three years.

Frank Samuel said the addition of disc golf at Bond Lake ruined a family tradition.

Every Father’s Day, Samuel, his father, and his three sons would head over to Bond Lake for a day of fishing. But since the installation of the course, instead of catching fish, they are catching stray Frisbees.

“To the point where you even if you just go fishing or hiking, trek a path, you still can’t get away from all the clamor,” he said.

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The conflict that arises when a new pursuit bumps into an existing activity is a common one, seen most often in Western New York as new recreational hiking and biking trails have been built on land that mostly private homes. Disc golf courses are not new in Western New York – there are courses at such well-traveled parks as Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park and Ellicott Creek in the Town of Tonawanda – but the fight over how the courses are affecting natural areas is getting louder.

Michael Chatt of Pendleton, left, and Dave Spacone of Niagara Falls, walk between baskets on the disc golf course at Bond Lake Park in Ransomville, July 31, 2022.

Libby March/Buffalo News

For the uninitiated, disc golf mimics traditional golf in that players navigate a course using the fewest shots possible. In disc golf, the idea is to throw a disc – popularized by the Frisbee brand – into a metal basket.

The disc golf course at Royalton Ravine Park, the second Niagara County-created course, opened May 28 after the public had a chance to have its say, said Kevin Schuler, the county’s public information officer.

Others continue to have their say on social media. On June 28, Daniel Human wrote on Twitter, “You have to love that Niagara County Parks clear cut trees and eliminated the vegetation causing severe soil erosion into Eighteenmile Creek to build a Frisbee golf course at Royalton Ravine. Just like Bond Lake, no environmental impact plan was conducted by the county @NYSDEC”

But the idea the course caused environmental damage is a “faraway statement,” said Jeffrey Gaston, Niagara County Buildings and Grounds director.

The course began development after receiving a grant through the office of State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and from the Niagara River Greenway Commission. The grants also funded three new playgrounds. The county sought the grant after the success of its first course at Bond Lake, now known as Clyde L. Burmaster Park in Lewiston and after seeing public interest in disc golf, Schuler said.

Larry Beahan, Sierra Club Niagara Group’s conservation chair, said he was not aware of any damage from the new disc golf course, but that doesn’t mean the course is safe for the environment either.

“My son hiked the Royalton Gorge Trail recently and observed the Frisbee course crossing the trail. The forest floor had been cleared of bushes and shrubs but no actual trees had been disturbed and no obvious damage to the gorge was apparent. The heavy traffic borne by this course will increase and perpetuate the damage inflicted by construction,” he wrote in an email to The News.

The club often hears complaints from hikers who believe disc golf courses disturb the natural environment by making the forests less able to retain water, store carbon and resist erosion, Beahan wrote.

Last week, two Sierra Sierra Club board members, Sara Schultz and Janet Lenichek, visited the course and found it to be an impressive balance between nature and recreation.

Niagara County Parks officials and environmentalists share the same goals: having as many people appreciate nature as possible, Gaston said. Whether it takes installing hiking trails, bird-watching spots or disc golf courses, the goal is to keep people engaged in the parks.

But Samuel said the new installations benefit only the community of disc golfers.

“Those are the only people you’ll see at the parks anymore,” I added.

Among the list of the Ravine Disc Golf Course rules reads, “Hikers and Other Park Users Have the Right of Way.” Still, when Human saw the course at the Ravine, he decided to change his fall trip plans for the Cub Scout troop he leads. Instead of walking the Ravine trail, which overlaps with the disc golf course, he’ll be taking them elsewhere.

“A lot of times those guys are pretty impatient, so they’ll be throwing Frisbees around your head as you’re trying to walk,” he said.

Noah Finley believes the issue is that people have a negative view of disc golfers, viewing them as “a bad element,” he said. But he said he loves that the sport allows players to enjoy nature.

“You go out, you walk around in the woods. It doesn’t cost anything,” he said.

Human said he reached out to the county when the course at Bond Lake was being created, but he never received a response.

Now, he wants to see an environmental impact study conducted by an outside source and the county to seek more input from park users if they plan another course.

Bill Mcintosh doesn’t see a lot of conflict between disc golfers and other users of the park, but he disagrees with the sentiment that the courses hurt the parks.

“This sport itself is awesome and you get out in nature. It’s the same as hiking, but we’re hiking and doing this,” said Mcintosh, who has played disc golf since October 2021.

While he said there are some disc golfers that will leave trash, he maintained that they aren’t representative of all the players.

“What are we doing here that’s destroying any of this?” he asked, motioning to the wooded areas of the Royalton Ravine.

Mcintosh plays at Royalton, he has never had negative experiences with other people there. Still, it’s important for everyone to remain courteous as they use the parks for different purposes, he said.

“Everyone will get used to it,” he added.

McCarthy said he believes the signs at Royalton that say hikers and other park users have the right of way are clear.

“Do you want these wide-open areas with trails on them to just be here or do you want people out doing stuff in them? My thing is if people are out and doing them and it didn’t destroy anything, I don’t see an issue with it,” he said.


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