BERLIN – Town officials approved plans for a trial disc golf program at Stephen Decatur Park.
The Berlin Town Council on Monday voted 3-1 to approve disc golf special events at Stephen Decatur Park in August. Though several officials expressed hesitation about bringing the sport to the park, they agreed to allow it on a trial basis.
“By the time you get to the end of that we’ll know if we like it or we don’t,” Councilman Troy Purnell said.
In May, local resident Austin Widdowson approached the Berlin Parks Commission with a proposal to bring disc golf to Stephen Decatur Park. With endorsement from the commission, Widdowson and his fellow disc golf players shared their vision this week with members of the town council. Widdowson said they wanted to promote disc golf among local residents at the same time promote downtown Berlin to visiting golfers. He added that disc golf was similar to traditional golf except players used discs, similar to Frisbees, and baskets.
“With one or two discs you can enjoy this sport. you don’t have to have a tee time or pay any greens fees,” said disc golf player Shawn Johnson.
Widdowson said he and other members of Eastbound Disc Golf had developed a plan for a course around the perimeter of Stephen Decatur Park so that there would be hardly any impact on people using the playgrounds or walking path at the park.
“The coexisting would really work well,” Widdowson said.
He said the group wanted to set up a temporary course first to test the layout and logistics. Johnson said they were hoping to host their weekly club round at the park Aug. 1, and then also trial events on Aug. 10 and Aug. 22. Those events would give them a chance to get feedback from players as well as from the community.
Widdowson said the group eventually wanted to donate the equipment for a permanent disc golf course to the town. While they’d want town staff to help with the installation of that equipment, other than that they said the only maintenance required by the town would be the mowing that already occurs in the park.
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood said disc golf was a great concept but that he had liability concerns.
“I have done some research regarding that,” he said. “From a risk management perspective what I’ve read has not been favorable.”
Widdowson said there was risk, just as there was with any equipment in the park.
Mayor Zack Tyndall suggested the town reach out to the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT) for guidance.
“Strangulation is a very sincere risk,” Fleetwood said.
Tyndall maintained that LGIT could provide information regarding potential risk.
“I’m sure we’re not the only one that’s looked at this,” he said.
Johnson added that Schumaker Park in Salisbury featured a disc course that has been used successfully for more than a decade.
Tyndall said he liked the idea of a pilot program and the fact that Widdowson’s group could return to the council after they tried the layout.
Councilman Jack Orris asked how the players would ensure they didn’t hit other park users with their discs. Widdowson said players were accustomed to avoiding other people.
“Very rarely is there a park that doesn’t already have human traffic,” he said.
He added that the disc golf wouldn’t attract that many people and that players could easily avoid areas where families might be congregating or using certain parts of the park. When tournaments are underway, Widdowson said participants signed liability waivers.
When asked about the nonprofit status of Eastbound Disc Golf, Widdowson said it didn’t have official approval yet because the Internal Revenue Service was months behind.
Councilman Jay Knerr said he was concerned because two of the three dates the group wanted to try in August were on weekends. The park, and its pavilion, is usually heavily used on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Typically every weekend is birthdays and group gatherings,” he said.
Widdowson said he didn’t see that being a problem because if the pavilion wasn’t available the group could set up a pop-up tent in an out of the way place.
Knerr said that looking at the group’s concept plan the course seemed to dominate the park. He was critical of the proposed usage of the pond section of the park.
“Suppose we wanted to put a small skate park over there—we wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said.
Widdowson stressed that the group’s goal was to be cohesive. Johnson added that the equipment they’d be using was temporary and could be removed from the park quickly.
“What we would like to do is bring temporary baskets out there and find out what that concept looks like in reality,” he said. “If we have to make adjustments and move around it we’re all for it.”
Fleetwood said still had liability concerns about the proposal but Tyndall said town staff could research that in the coming weeks. He said he agreed with Widdowson that the parks were underutilized.
“If we could find innovative ways, whether it’s a skate park, whether it’s disc golf, whatever it may be, to get people outdoors and together I think that’s what a community is about,” Tyndall said. “I don’t know what direction this project will take but kudos on at least coming forward.”
The council voted 3-1, with Knerr opposed and Councilman Dean Burrell absent, to approve the trial dates in August as long as liability issues were addressed. In addition, Orris and Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols emphasized that they didn’t want any of the baskets set up near the park’s pond.