Berlin Delays Proposed Disc Golf Donation Request Decision

Berlin Delays Proposed Disc Golf Donation Request Decision
A layout of the disc golf course proposed for Stephen Decatur Park is pictured. Submitted Image

BERLIN – Town officials delayed a decision regarding a donation of disc golf equipment.

The Berlin Town Council this week voted 4-1 to table a decision related to accepting a donation of disc golf equipment for Stephen Decatur Park. The council is expected to reconsider the donation from Eastbound Disc Golf next month.

“I am of the opinion this group should not come back to us based on the discussion we have had, which is beyond the donation of equipment,” said Councilman Dean Burrell, who voted against the motion to table. “They should not come back to us until they have their 501c3 status.”

Austin Widdowson and members of Eastbound Disc Golf approached the council Monday to offer a donation of disc golf equipment that could be set up in Stephen Decatur Park for the next six months. Widdowson said pilot events in August had been well received and well attended.

“It was nice to be able to see that park activities can also function while disc golf is going on,” he said.

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Because those events went well, the group asked to donate an 18-hole disc golf set to the park that residents could try during the next six months. That trial period would give Eastbound Disc Golf a chance to vet the course and determine the best permanent layout. If the trial goes well, the group, which Widdowson said was seeking nonprofit status, could raise money to donate a permanent course. Widdowson said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask donors to pony up money before the concept had council approval.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said he’d attended all the group’s trial events and thought they went well.

Burrell was quick to ask if the group was a nonprofit. Widdowson said they’d applied but that there was an eight-month backup on applications.

Burrell said that though disc golf was on the agenda as a donation, Widdowson was actually asking for his group to be able to use a portion of the park.

“What we’re asking for is to donate equipment to be installed into the park just like you would a swing set,” Widdowson replied.

Tyndall said that while entities were typically required to be nonprofits in order to hold events at the park, he said there was no well-defined policy related to donations.

“If people want to give something to the town to help us improve our parks or open spaces, I don’t think we should be turning them away,” he said.

When Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols brought up the issue of maintenance and repairs, Tyndall said the golf baskets would be easy to remove if needed.

Widdowson said the rough value of the equipment the group wanted to donate was $15,000. When staff pointed out that should be taken into account financially, Tyndall agreed and said that needed to be resolved.

“Whatever this accounting process needs to be, we need to figure that out before somebody’s sitting here in front of us with a half-a-million-dollar skate park,” he said.

Councilman Jay Knerr said the trial events the group held had gone well but that some residents still had concerns about disc golf occurring near the pond and Route 113. He said a nine-hole course, rather than the 18-hole course proposed, might be a good starting point.

Widdowson said invasive species were taking over the pond area and that disc golfers would help maintain the space.

“I believe there are a few voters in this town that are opposed to it because they have properties up against it but there are 4,000 voters in town,” Widdowson said. “There are way more in support of it. We’re looking to donate park equipment. We’re looking to utilize parts of the park that are currently not being used right now. The walking trail (around the pond) is one of the most underutilized and suffering portions of the park.”

Widdowson said a nine-hole course wouldn’t be the draw an 18-hole course would. He expects Stephen Decatur Park to attract many players.

“This park is gold,” he said. “It’s going to bring people to stop at Rayne’s Reef on their way in to have breakfast, they’re going to play disc golf, they’re going to bring their families to Atlantic Hotel sit on the porch when they’re done.”

He stressed that despite officials’ concerns, the disc golf holes near the water were critical.

“Why would we eliminate it?” he said. “I haven’t heard one valid reason other than someone doesn’t want it in their backyard. You shouldn’t have bought along the park.”

Nichols objected, saying, “I’m sorry. I feel that right there is a little bit far to the left.”

Nichols said officials were just voicing concerns they’d heard from residents. Burrell felt the town was essentially being asked to turn over a portion of the park to Eastbound Disc Golf.

“What you’re missing is, I’m speaking for myself — I’m not interested in drawing people to the Town of Berlin to play disc golf,” he said. “I’m interested in maintaining a facility for the enjoyment of the citizens of the Town of Berlin.”

Eastbound Disc Golf members said trying to foster a sense of community and expose more people to the game.

Councilman Troy Purnell said he thought the donation was a great idea but asked to table the decision until the group provided a map showing where the proposed disc golf baskets would be located. Councilman Jack Orris added he would like to see a written agreement.

The council voted 4-1, with Burrell opposed, to table the issue until Oct. 12 so the group has time to present a map of course layout and a draft agreement.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.