Weekly Feature

2012-01-26 / Front Page

Discs cease flying near Eternal Flame Falls

¦ County responds to grassroots effort

Sharon Moore of Seufert Road stands near one of the disc golf baskets in the Shale Creek Preserve area of Chestnut Ridge Park. Moore is one of many people who are concerned about the development of a disc golf course and is doing everything she can to stop it. 
Photo by Scott SchildPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Sharon Moore of Seufert Road stands near one of the disc golf baskets in the Shale Creek Preserve area of Chestnut Ridge Park. Moore is one of many people who are concerned about the development of a disc golf course and is doing everything she can to stop it. Photo by Scott SchildPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Erie County recently removed the metal baskets from a disc golf course being developed in the 90-acre Shale Creek Preserve, the location of the Eternal Flame Falls, in Chestnut Ridge Park.

(See editorial on page four)

The county’s action came as a response to a grassroots effort by people from across Western New York to halt construction of the 18-hole course. They believe it would harm the environment.

“The decision was made to do a thorough review to make sure everything is correct,” said Peter Anderson, a spokesperson for Mark Poloncarz, the new county executive. “This administration wants to make sure all these areas are addressed.”

Development of the disc golf course — a game in which individual players throw a flying disc into a basket or at a target — began in the fall and was expected to conclude this spring.

Spearheaded by Niagara Region Disc Golf, based in Lewiston, the course was apparently approved by former county Parks Commissioner Jim Hornung. Detractors say, however, that no public input was sought, nor was there an environmental impact review.

“It went in without any notification,” said Sharon Moore, who lives nearby on Seufert Road. “Nobody knew about it.”

A county official, who asked that he not be named, said, “There were concerns raised [about the course], and we realized there was no formal approval process.”

The disc golf organization claims a resolution was in place before construction began. Evelyn Hicks, chairwoman of the Environmental Management Council of Erie County, says she never heard of such a resolution getting approval and would like to “see a copy.”

As word got out about the course — some saw the baskets while hiking, some witnessed concrete being poured and some learned through emails that spread like fire — a loose cluster of individuals decided to try to do something about it.

Steve Tulowiecki, a doctoral candidate in the University at Buffalo Geography Department, was one of those people. Previously a lifelong Orchard Park resident — he recently moved to Clarence — Tulowiecki wrote a column in a local newspaper advocating for the preservation of the area.

Echoing the concerns of many involved, he detailed what the adverse affects of such a course would be, including cutting down small trees; altering the trails; and concentrated foot travel across creeks and ravines, which would accelerate erosion, especially upon the steep terrain of the park. Concerns other people mentioned are the litter following increased usage, noise pollution and damage to rare plants, such as the pink lady’s slipper.

Concerned resident Christine Weitz wrote, “Pink lady slipper orchids, pileated woodpeckers, fringed polygala, ground pine, Indian pipe, wintergreen, trillium, and American Chestnut sprouts can still be found living there. Here, nature has basically been left undisturbed for centuries.”

Chestnut Ridge Park already has a mile-long disc golf course near the casino, and it is unclear why another was under construction. Neither Doug Opiela or Chad Adams, spokespeople for the disc golf organization, responded to email requests for comment on the course.

“It really does upset me because they will no longer be nature trails but golf trails,” said Alan Herdzik, of Lancaster, noting that fly-away discs could even hit unaware hikers. “It’s one of the most scenic, peaceful places, one of the few pristine places left in Erie County. I was stunned that anybody would allow that kind of use in that specific spot.”

Herdzik hikes often through Chestnut Ridge, as a “stress-rel iever.” He was hiking there, in fact, when a reporter reached him via cellphone: “I don’t want to sound too crazy,” he said, huffing from the exertion of the hike, “but I love trees.”

People like Moore called “every- one she could think of” in the county and in area environmental groups. Herdzik notified the hiking clubs he belongs to and outdoor organizations such as the Adirondack Mountain Club. Tulowiecki started an online petition 24 hours after also witnessing the metal chain-link baskets installed in the park.

“There was some sense of urgency to it because if I waited any longer, the course would have become more permanent.”

As of noon Monday, the petition boasted 635 signatures, and Tulowiecki’s column generated spirited online discussion on the course both pro and con and by doing so, raised awareness.

Legislator John Mills, R-Orchard Park, received many letters written by people upset about the disc golf course. The letter-writers included Orchard Park residents, people living outside the area who frequent the park, and members of the Orchard Park Historical Society.

Resident David Schuster recently broached the topic at an Orchard Park Town Board meeting, telling the board, “A pristine, natural feature of our area is under attack. Despite the park being a locally owned asset, the public was never notified. ... This area has served the public well as a quiet place to hike and contemplate the beauty of nature.”

Councilman David Kaczor responded, “That was the first time I heard about that. I wasn’t aware.”

Those who decry the course say the Shale Creek Preserve area was never intended for heavy recreational use, such as the kind a pro-disc golf course would attract. They’re not necessarily against another course in Chestnut Ridge if it’s in another part of the park. The preserve can sustain only light use, such as hiking and bird-watching, they say.

“I genuinely do feel sympathetic to the disc golf community because they did put in so much time and effort, but really it comes down to an issue of the course being situated in a sensitive area,” said Tulowiecki, with UB. “The sport does have an environmental impact, but for me the issue is where we decide to allow that impact.”

The preservation advocates also all said they believe the disc-golfers are good people, Tulowiecki noting that they’re “genuine” and “passionate” and raise money for worthy causes. The arguments for course removal aren’t meant to be against the players or the sport itself.

“The issue of the park is that it’s many things to many people,” said Town Attorney John Bailey, also president of the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy, “and many times, those interests intersect at right angles.”

The new Erie County parks commissioner, Troy Schinzel, met with county officials and disc golf spokespeople Opiela and Adams, during which time they decided to complete a formal review before allowing the course’s completion in the spring. Anderson said the county does not have a review completion deadline.

Until that review is completed, no discs will be flying near the Eternal Flame Falls.

“It shows that we have some actual power, that the average citizen can make a difference,” said Moore, who lives nearby, of the county’s decision. “I’m proud of that — and I’m proud the administration listened.”

(Editor’s note: “Should Erie County allow a disc golf course in the Shale Creek Preserve?” Vote in The Bee’s online poll at www.orchardparkbee.com. Results will appear in the next edition.) email: nspencer@beenews.com

Return to top