Concerns remain about impacts, process behind disc golf course in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

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Concerns remain about impacts, process behind disc golf course in Steamboat

DOW, Hermacinski concerned about Rita Valentine course

Craig Robinson

Online

Learn more about the Steamboat Area Disc Golf League online at http://steamboatdisc.com.

— Questions about the new disc golf course at Rita Valentine Park are starting to fly as fast as discs thrown across the open space site.

At this point, some answers are as uncertain as the resting place of discs lost in the tall grass.

Danielle Domson, a local district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said Wednesday that she plans to write a letter to the Steamboat Springs City Council expressing her concerns about the course's potential impacts on riparian corridors and wildlife including moose, bears and deer. Also Wednesday, City Council President Cari Hermacinski said the course's development without City Council knowledge, "not even in a staff report," is "a breakdown in the process."

Meanwhile, course designer Ron Pannesi, of the Steamboat Area Disc Golf League, said impacts of the Fox Creek Disc Golf Course are minimal and that the course has the blessing of nearby residents who attended public meetings of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and walked the course before its creation.

"We did go by the letter of the law; we did include everybody," Pannesi said. "Every single meeting I attended with parks and rec, the largest single group attending was the Rita Valentine group — they came out in force."

Rita Valentine Park, between Anglers Drive and Hilltop Parkway, long has been the subject of public debate about whether to preserve the land as open space or develop recreational uses in addition to existing walking and biking trails. The disc golf course is the latest controversial use and has spurred questions after opening, in unfinished form, to the public. The course crosses two adjoining parcels of land: the 40-acre Rita Valentine Park and the 35-acre parcel known as M & H. The entire site is commonly called Rita Valentine Park.

Domson walked the course Tuesday afternoon with Craig Robinson, the city's open space supervisor, and Bill Atkinson, an aquatic biologist with the Colorado DOW.

"A good part of the course is right in a riparian drainage … it's a pretty important migration corridor for wildlife through town," Domson said. "We weren't too pleased to see where they were laying tee boxes, right along the riparian corridor."

Pannesi disputed that, saying the course is "only on the creekbed for a brief period of time," primarily for the end of one hole and the start of another.

Much of the course skirts the edge of the park close to Fox Creek.

Domson acknowledged that the state DOW is an advisory agency with no regulatory authority, but, she said, "we can at least write a letter." She hopes to submit the letter early next week.

"There's going to be a lot of damage from people just treading through there," Domson said. "It's beautiful habitat in there, really good vegetation, and we don't want to see it trampled by people walking all over the place."

Public process

Hermacinski said Domson's concerns and Pannesi's responses are exactly the sort of discussion that should have occurred in a public City Council meeting before plans for the course moved forward.

The previous City Council voted, 7-0, on Aug. 4 to indefinitely postpone action on a conceptual design plan for future uses of Rita Valentine Park. That was the last City Council action related to use of the park.

The city's Parks and Rec­reation Commission moved forward with development of the disc golf course this spring after public meetings, notification of nearby residents and a course walk-through. Chris Wilson, director of the city's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said that although the commission is an advisory body to the City Council, "operational uses" such as planting trees, building trails and developing disc golf courses are "all within the purview of the commission." He said Pannesi's work with the commission to move the course forward is a separate issue from the conceptual plan tabled last summer, and similar to other resident-led applications for use or implementation of recreational facilities.

Hermacinski disagreed.

"I don't think that they should reverse a council decision that was made so recently in time, unanimously, without at least coming back and running it by the people elected to represent the community," Hermacinski said. "I think that was a breakdown in the process."

Hermacinski said given the sensitive nature of Rita Valen­tine Park, the disc golf course deserves a greater public hearing.

"I'm completely open to listening to the information on all sides of this issue — I think, procedurally, this should come back to City Council," Hermacinski said. "Less than a year ago, we voted unanimously to go in one direction, and it seems to me that we're going in completely another direction."

Pannesi said the course's development depends on the pace of fundraising. The disc golf league is requesting "18 lifetime hole sponsors" at a cost of $750 each, as part of a cost that could reach $10,000. Pannesi said Wednesday that money has been raised for about half the holes.

When funding is secured, he said, he'll conduct a work day for improvements including fairways mowed by handheld weed-trimmers — mowers will not be used, he said, per an agreement with the Rita Valentine Coalition — and creation of natural paths between holes.

"None of the things we'll be trimming out will be trees or bushes. … There will be nothing cut down whatsoever," Pannesi said. "I've built numerous courses in a number of states. This is something that I'm very good at."

Pannesi said he's also working to revive a disc golf course at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Both courses, he said, are part of efforts to provide a setting for a third annual Steamboat Open disc golf event.

Tuesday afternoon, disc golfer Zac Hale searched through tall grass at Rita Valentine, trying to find at least two flying discs that he and a friend had lost after errant throws.

"This could be something awesome, for sure. … It's just hard to see it right now," Hale said about the unfinished course, where thick brush creates Bermuda Triangles for discs. "I don't think I'll be coming back here anytime soon, unless it gets a little better."