Calgary Herald Article – May 31, 1999

Frisbee flingers need to see big picture

Take a group of free-spirited people who enjoy playing a golf like game with Frisbees instead of little white balls. Mix in some naturalists who want to kick these disc golfers out of a popular inner-city park to develop an educational marsh. The result? Confrontation.  It’s brewing in Pearce Estate Park, a pretty little patch of grass and poplars on the west bank of the Bow River off Blackfoot Trail S.E. A popular destination for family picnics, wildlife watching, beach volleyball and disc golf, the park also provides canoeists and anglers access to the Bow River. Since I973,   Pearce Estate has been home to the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery, a provincially operated facility that grows millions of trout annually for release into southern Alberta lakes and ponds.  The current controversy revolves around a $900,000 interpretative wetlands development proposed by the province and the city parks and recreation department. The proposal includes development of a stream, ponds and wetlands representative of a southern Alberta foothills stream from source to outlet. The marsh would naturally cleanse the hatchery’s treated waste water before pumping it into the Bow River. Project proponents see it as a chance for city-bound residents to learn about nature, aquatic ecology and habitat conservation. The project is part of a long-term plan by the hatchery-based Bow River Habitat Station to develop a multimillion-dollar public education and environmental awareness program. Problem is, the proposed stream runs through a treed area used by a disc goIfers, whose game entails throwing Frisbees through rings attached to trees. Planners favour more passive recreation, such as picnicking and nature appreciation. So disc golfers would have to go, along with beach volleyball players. Unfortunately, nobody has offered a suitable alternate location for disc golf. The game needs trees; playing on bald prairie just doesn’t cut it. While the volleyballers have been silent over their pending ouster, the golfers are teed off. Big time. “We’ve been here 10 years, and we want to stay,” disc golfer Ryan Powell told a recent packed – and stacked public meeting at the hatchery. A director of Disc Golf Alberta, Powell says Frisbee duffers have contributed 3,000 volunteer hours to improve the park, picking up garbage and generally being good stewards. Speaker after speaker rose to praise disc golf with passionate fervour. It’s a great sport that keeps young people off the streets. A recreational bonus for Inglewood residents. Disc golfers say they promote active, fun, responsible and legal use of a park that once was the domain of drug addicts and hookers. In a ludicrous and shamefully opportunistic stretch, one speaker tried to link recent high school shootings with disc golfers potential ejection from the park. In the thick of the Frisbee frenzy, a woman sitting at the front of the room stood boldly. Turning to face the mostly hostile crowd of about 100 people, she calmly pointed out that the river valley in which Pearce Estate Park is located falls under the city’s urban parks master plan. Approved by council in I994, the plan provides a framework for a park system along Calgary’s river and creek systems. “River valleys in Calgary are limited in quality and quantity,” the woman noted to a chorus of catcalls. “Natural areas also are limited.” What isn’t limited, she added, are places for people to play golf with flat, plastic discs. Although her opinion clearly was in the minority on this particular night the disc golfers obviously had worked the phones thoroughly – the woman was right. The urban parks master plan resulted from input by dozens of groups and thousands of city residents, not a single special-interest group. The bottom line: preservation of natural areas and upgrading of existing parks. As Calgary continues to grow, many residents – including children – will become more and more out of touch with natural areas and nature. Most already don’t care to know where their drinking water comes from or where treated sewage is dumped. The Pearce Estate wetlands would provide Calgarians with another natural classroom to teach them the need for responsible ecological stewardship. When this proposal goes to council within the next few weeks, it’s important that message is made clear. (Masterman is the author of Heading Out.. A Celebration of the Great Outdoors in Calgary and Southern Alberta.)

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