- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Construction of a disc golf course in Jackson Park has local Frisbee fans excited about a new option for tournaments. But birdwatchers who flock to the park’s woods each spring are teed off about the course encroaching on key songbird habitat.

The Henderson County Parks and Recreation Department has partnered with volunteers from the WNC Disc Golf Association to build an 18- to 27-hole disc golf course in the 220-acre municipal park. It could open as early as late summer, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Hopkin said.

Association volunteers, working with an Asheville-based arborist who plays the sport, began clearing fairways for the course throughout the park this month. They downed swaths of understory shrubs and saplings, along with scattered large trees deemed a safety hazard to golfers.

Unlike traditional duffers, disc golfers throw plastic discs similar to Frisbees around obstacles and hazards into elevated baskets. The object is to hit those targets with the fewest possible throws.

“A variety of throws is what it’s all about,” said Jerry Thornbird, 35, an association member from Fairview who can’t wait to play the new course. “If you mix some open shots in a big field and you’ve got your wooded shots, it’s great to incorporate all those in one course like this.”

Jay McCarthy, an association leader from Cedar Mountain, was instrumental in the design of the Richmond Hill disc golf course in Buncombe County. He is spearheading the layout and construction of the Jackson Park course, which was approved by the county’s Recreation Advisory Board last year.

“It’s going to be a championship-caliber course, a destination course where people are going to travel to come play it,” McCarthy said. “That being said, I’m trying to be patient and dial in the design. There are lots of issues to work around, such as safety and having a minimal impact (on the environment).”

Hopkin said the county purchased the baskets, tee signs and other “hardware” for the course last year from INNOVA, a disc golf industry leader. But putting the course together has been a slow process, he added, due in part to weather and its reliance on volunteer labor.

“It’s shaping itself up nicely now,” Hopkin said. “We had a work day to clear the fairways on April 12. We’ve cleared out the underbrush and some of the trees. They’re still refining the course. There are white stakes to make sure the basket placement is where they want it.”

Disc golf is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, McCarthy said, with 100 new courses established each year. There are 18 disc golf courses in Buncombe County alone, he said. Local courses include one at Brevard College and another at Fletcher Community Park.

McCarthy predicts the Jackson Park course will eclipse those in popularity.

“That whole parking lot (at Jackson Park) will be filled with cars on rainy days, snowy days,” he predicted. “Monday through Sunday, it’ll get a lot of usage. I’d venture to say it’ll trump Richmond Hill, partly because it’s a beautiful park and partly because Henderson County doesn’t have a disc golf course yet.”

But local birders say construction of the cleared fairways will devastate a critical migratory corridor for neotropical songbirds, as well as a peaceful refuge for birds and birders of all stripes within Hendersonville’s increasingly urban environs.

“This never should’ve been approved,” said Simon Thompson, a birding guide who often leads hikes in Jackson Park. “It’s a migration corridor that should be kept intact. Tim knows better than this. This is a natural habitat that’s been set aside and protected and he should not be trying to trash it.”

Local plumber and ex-cop Wayne Forsythe, who has spotted over 200 birds species during his daily forays in Jackson Park, said he could understand “if they put in disc golf around the open areas of the park. But running it right through every piece of remaining forest we have makes no sense.”

A mock-up of the course layout provided by McCarthy shows seven of 18 holes running through open meadows or existing grassy areas. The remaining fairways slice through wooded areas along trails such as Lieben’s Loop, the Bottomland Trail and behind the picnic area and playground across from the tennis courts.

Hopkin and McCarthy said any vegetative clearing for fairways will be kept to a minimum, targeting mostly understory shrubs, branches and small trees that prevent clear sailing for discs.

“It hasn’t wiped out the whole forest,” Hopkin said. “To be honest, it’ll probably improve the wildlife habitat. That’s why you see the Forest Service doing burns and cuts in places. You can manage the land to enhance wildlife habitat.”

Because the cuttings are being stacked along trails to prepare them for chipping, McCarthy said, “it looks like a pile of material. But I’m looking for existing paths that I can just remove a couple of trees or branches. I design with total conservation in mind. I’m a naturalist, a birder, a biker and a disc golfer.”

Thompson, who has watched other projects incrementally nip away at Jackson Park’s forest interior, said more cutting is just adding insult to injury. He said the understory plants cleared for fairways are important habitat for wood thrushes, brown thrashers and other birds.

“We don’t need the forest more impacted than it already is,” Thompson said. “Any clearing you make is going to bring in other things, like brown-headed cowbirds (a nest parasite) and unwanted things like that. They’re always trying to impact the park doing something or another.”

Forsythe said first the county tried to build a BMX bike course in a wetland known to harbor breeding birds. Then it granted the city of Hendersonville permission to lay a mile of sewer pipe through the park’s bottomlands. Now watching the forest fragmented with fairways is too much to bear, he said.

“You would think the park would be sacred at this point,” Forsythe said. “You’re in a lovely patch of woods in the middle of town. How can you just allow these guys to hack and chop it up at will? I’m sick over it.”

___

Information from: Times-News, https://www.blueridgenow.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide