Friends of Garret Mountain letter in Opposition to Disc Golf at RCP


THE FRIENDS OF GARRET MOUNTAIN RESERVATION
CLIFTON · WOODLAND PARK, NJ

Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Passaic County Administration Building
401 Grand Street
Paterson, NJ 07505

2/16/2017

Dear Freeholders and Administrators of Passaic County:
On January 23, 2017 a few members of our organization had met with Matthew Jordan (deputy county administrator) and Darryl Sparta (director of parks), at which time we were informed of the County’s plans to install an 18-hole frisbee golf (disk golf) course at Rifle Camp Park.

The Friends of Garret Mountain Reservation strongly opposes the installation of a disk golf course at Rifle Camp Park. We believe this project would cause irreparable damage to the environment, threaten the safety of park-goers, and is in direct contradiction to the needs of Passaic County residents, as expressed in the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. We understand that this project is being developed through a private grant which has been given to the County. We would like to request further information as to the details of this grant.

The reasons for our opposition are as follows:
Development of an 18 hole disk golf course to be installed throughout Rifle Camp Park

Safety concerns:
Disk Golf presents a safety hazard and is not compatible with existing passive-recreation park uses.
The projectiles used in this sport are smaller and much heavier than flexible Frisbees. They can travel at great velocity, with speeds up to 60 mph, and often have a sharp cutting edge. These fast-flying discs would present a significant hazard to hikers, walkers, birders, and other park visitors. If a disk should hit a person it would cause serious injury. Rifle Camp Park is used daily by many County residents and is valued as a place where one can enjoy a tranquil walk or hike in the woods. Rifle Camp Park is also a relatively small park, with walking paths, hiking, and nature trails extending throughout. It is far too small an area to safely accommodate a disk golf course along with existing activities. Despite attempts to place baskets away from trails, disks can travel several hundred feet and often veer off-course. There would always be a risk that a hiker or walker could be hit and severely injured by a disk that flew out of bounds. If a disk golf course were to be installed at RCP, it would effectively remove the park from all other passive recreational uses.

Environmental impacts:
Destruction of forest understory and vegetation. There are still many existing areas of native vegetation and understory flora at Rifle Camp Park. Developing a disk golf course will result in the destruction of any remaining understory vegetation, including damage (or direct removal) of any young saplings. It will also prevent any future attempts at reforestation.
Soil Compaction: Increased foot traffic leads to compaction of the soil which can damage tree roots, prevent other plant growth, and encourage the growth of invasive species.
Damage to Trees: As previously mentioned, the projectiles used in this sport can travel at great velocity. Trees are frequently hit, causing deep cuts and gouges in the bark. These wounds leave trees vulnerable to insect attack and diseases. Once a tree is diseased, it can become a hazard and will either need expensive treatment or need to be taken down. RCP supports many large Red Oak trees, which are particularly susceptible to bacterial and fungal infection carried by insects. The trees become vulnerable to insect attacks through cuts and wounds in their bark. Once a tree becomes diseased it can also spread to other trees through their root systems. With no new trees growing (because saplings and understory will also have been removed) it will lead to long term deforestation of the park.
Soil Erosion: Increased foot traffic and reduced ground cover also leads to erosion of the soil. Erosion of the thin soils present at RCP will weaken trees further.
Impacts to birds and wildlife: Broken tree branches result in less habitat for migratory and nesting songbirds. Fast flying disks also provide a direct physical threat to the safety of wildlife and birds, especially understory and ground-nesting species. Rifle Camp Park is a part of the Garret Mountain Important Bird Area (as designated by the National Audubon Society) noted as a significant stopover for migratory songbirds. A disk golf course would severely diminish this migratory bird habitat.
Damage to fragile ecosystems: Rifle Camp Park includes many delicate ecosystems, including mossy ridgetops and glades with only a few inches of topsoil that took millions of years to produce. Foot traffic and erosion of these areas will easily destroy these fragile habitats, along with their associated native flora and fauna. Even if not in direct fairways, disks frequently fly “out of bounds” and players will trample in order to retrieve disks.

Environmental and Public Stewardship:
According to the Open Space Master Plan, the County Park System is a “steward of the environment” and acknowledges that “in addition to maintaining scenic natural and cultural landscapes having recreational value, the system’s natural resources fulfill important ecological functions.” It is also noted that Garret Mountain and Rifle Camp Park contain unique topographical features which “support the formation of microclimates and therewith, help to increase local and regional biodiversity, which increases ecosystem productivity and resilience.” It is our hope that the County will remain a protector of its natural lands and a steward of the environment.

We would also like to emphasize that protecting and preserving the forests and parklands in the developed southern part of the County is of no less importance than the lands in the upper northern areas. In fact, these parks are especially important as they provide the opportunity for the urban population to learn about and connect with the natural world. While there are many tranquil and unspoiled tracts of land in the upper portions of the County, not all urban residents have the time or means to get there. Garret Mountain (and especially Rifle Camp Park) provide a place for city residents to experience a peaceful natural environment without having to drive too far from home. Installation of a disk golf course would take this opportunity away.

  • Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan:
    We believe that the installation of a Disk Golf course is inconsistent with the Open Space Master Plan, and directly contradicts the needs of Passaic County residents, as reflected in the Master Plan. The Plan was developed in conjunction with extensive input from County residents (via public meetings and surveys), and we believe it accurately reflects the needs of the public. (As stated a total of 3,000 surveys were sent, and 657 responses were received, which is a “sample large enough to provide statistically significant information.”)It should be emphasized that, according to the Open Space Master Plan:
  • Rifle Camp Park is the second-most used park in the County Park System.
  • The Master Plan states that “Rifle Camp Park provides opportunities for passive recreation and is mostly noted for camping and nature-related activities”
  • When asked the activities they participate in most, 43% (the largest number of respondents) indicated they used the walking and hiking trails. Another 13% said they most often used nature and river trails.
  • When residents were asked to indicate which types of park facilities they had the greatest need for: A clear majority, 74% indicated a need for walking and hiking trails. 56% indicated a need for nature trails, 52% indicated a need for trails along rivers and streams, and 49% indicated a need for natural areas/wildlife habitat. These were the top 4 responses given by County residents.
  • Development of a disk golf course at Rifle Camp Park would do precisely the opposite of what County residents have requested. It would in effect remove hiking, walking and nature trails from safe public use, and it would destroy natural areas and wildlife habitat.

In light of the various issues and concerns presented here, we urge the County to reject the installation of a disk golf course at Rifle Camp Park. If the County still intends to go forth with this project, we would like to request a full public review/input process, along with an independent environmental impact study.

Sincerely,
Vera Lazar, Cor. Sec.
Friends of Garret Mountain Reservation

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