Kevin Riordan: Compromise needed on disc golf course at Timber Creek Park

Posted: November 01, 2012

If landscapes were gems, Timber Creek Park would be Tiffany's.

It offers 128 rolling acres of woods, water, and fields - an oasis amid the postwar suburban sprawl of Gloucester Township.

But some people who enjoy the trails and the dog run worry that this sylvan jewel could be tarnished by people who like to play disc golf.

The competitive sport mixes aspects of the links with elements of Frisbee, horseshoes, and basketball. Players stand at a tee and try to sink a plastic disc about the size of a dinner plate into a basketlike target from 200 to 500 feet away, taking successive shots from wherever the disc lands.

Despite strong support from players and fans, a proposed 18-hole course for amateur, professional, and potential tournament play at Timber Creek has been put on hold by the Camden County freeholders.

The freeholder board had awarded a contract for the $18,000 project to the lowest of three bidders earlier this year. Although disc golf had long been proposed for the park, opponents say they were unaware of the latest plan. Freeholders say they had not expected the opposition, either.

The course was supposed to have opened on Tuesday.

"We want to create a disc golf course," says Jeff Nash, the freeholder board's liaison to the park system. "But here's the bottom line: We will not impact the environmental integrity of that park."

Says Township Mayor David Mayer: "What we need to do is just figure out what the balance is between providing recreation and preserving that environment."

That was the goal in 2003, after more than 500 homes were proposed for the site. The county bought the adjoining Slim's Ranch and Hill properties and combined them into the park.

Though I generally admire the county's ambitious stewardship of the park system, wise stewardship also suggests the time to figure out whether a certain form of recreation is compatible with a fragile environment is before trees get cut down, not after.

On a sunny afternoon last week, I got a tour from Christopher Schillizzi, 61, a retired planner with the National Park Service.

The self-described "old hippie" is a leader of the disc golf opposition, which coalesced after perhaps 50 trees were cut down to make way for the course.

Schillizzi is an energetic, enthusiastic guide, eagerly opening my eyes to the park's charms. It's packed with abundant fauna, unusual flora - such as pink lady slipper orchid - and has hills overlooking the placid headwaters of Big Timber Creek's North Branch.

"This is one of the most significant places I've seen in my entire career," Schillizzi says, making the case that most of the woods, and especially the lower portion near the wetlands, ought to be off-limits to competitive recreation.

"We don't have too many places like this left. Disc golf should be played in the field," Schillizzi says, referring to an expanse of open space near the park's Chews Landing Road entrance.

Avid disc golfer Dave Myers, 50, who lives in the township's Blackwood section, has been playing for 25 years.

The warehouse supervisor loves the sport's affordability - a single plastic disc can cost less than $10 - and believes it can coexist with other park uses and users.

"We just have to be aware of the [environmentally] sensitive areas," Myers says. "We can design away from them, and away from the walking trails."

The designer of the proposed course, John Duesler, says he's "more than willing to work with anyone who's concerned" about the park.

"I just want to finish the project," he says.

Myers believes there can be common ground between the two sides, and I share his belief that people can play disc golf at Timber Creek Park without damaging the environment or endangering anyone.

Freeholder Rod Greco says a meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss a compromise.

How about limiting play to the field and the edge of the woods?


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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