Buffalo News - Move disc golf course out of Eternal Flame area

Nature Watch /By Gerry Rising

February 5, 2012

A month ago, Alan Herdzik contacted me to complain about a disc golf course in the Eternal Flame area of Chestnut Ridge Park. That was before Steve Tulowiecki, a presidential scholar studying geography at the University at Buffalo, wrote a strong My View column for The News opposing the course.

Herdzik’s contact was just the first of dozens I have received complaining about this course. Later there was even a petition against its location that gathered more than 600 signers; since then a petition supporting the course has more than 300.

Many readers have never heard of disc golf. I knew of it only because there is a course at Beaver Island State Park near the nature walk we census each year. Modeled on golf, disc golf is a contest involving nine or 18 holes. They are called holes, although the targets are above-ground metal stations like the one in the photo. Players count disc tosses instead of golf strokes between tee and hole. You can watch their spectacular throws on YouTube. More power to them. If I had more hours to spare, I would be out there playing this game.

A superficial check indicates that there are at least three courses locally in addition to the one my correspondents are complaining about: Beaver Island, Veterans’ Park and Chestnut Ridge. Yes, Chestnut Ridge has another course in an open area. I know of no complaints about that one.

In late January, I went down to Chestnut Ridge Park to find the Eternal Flame course. The entrance to the Eternal Flame pathway that I found is off Seufert Road, just in from Chestnut Ridge Road. Another access trail leads to it from the ring road within the west side of the park.

The going was not easy. The hills are steep and, although there was little snow, everything was covered with ice. I walked in only about a quarter mile, but even keeping my balance with ski poles, that short distance took quite a bit of time with my Tim Conway six-inch strides. At least the ice prevented me from sinking in the mud and doing violence to the trail. In wetter times this is not a place to visit.

Although I stopped every few feet to look for them, for most of my hike I found no evidence of any disc golf tees or holes. But finally, success, if you can call it that. I found a disc golf stand marked “2” about 20 feet from the side of the trail up a steep hill in dense woods. This one hole location was enough to convince me that this is not a place for a golf course. This is a natural setting sensitive to erosion and trampling of the undergrowth, and the players themselves have already complained about littering. There are even legal implications: each year a few people are injured simply following the trails here.

Despite a half-hour search, I could find neither the first nor the third hole. In any case, throwing a disc in any direction from this location would almost certainly hit a tree within 20 feet. Golf is not played in a forest.

Fortunately, unlike the stands on the Beaver Island course, this one was not cemented in. It will be easy to move it to a more suitable location.

The incoming administration under the leadership of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commissioner Troy Schinzel and County Executive Mark Poloncarz has closed this course to study the situation. I urge them to relocate it to a more appropriate area of the park. Equally important, I urge them to base their decision not on petitions but on the merits of the case.