Disc golf course no longer planned for Hilltop Lake Park

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Disc golf course no longer planned for Hilltop Lake Park
Photo of disc golf equipment by Alexander Juul Jakobsen from Pexels

By Mike Kinney

The plan for a disc golf course at Hilltop Lake Park has ended up deep in the rough, after the Richmond Recreation and Parks Commission declined to recommend the project’s approval at its Wednesday, May 5, meeting.

The commission, which heard the proposal for the disc golf course during meetings in December, April and May, voted unanimously to recommend that City Council deny the project, according to Community Services Administrative Manager Ranjana Marharaj.

The nonprofit East Bay Disc Golf Club, which manages disc golf courses at Berkeley Aquatic Park and Lake Chabot Golf Course, worked with city officials to seek approval for creating an 18-hole course at Lake Hilltop Park. The all-volunteer organization planned to fund the course and install it through the city’s Adopt-A-Spot program. The proposal called for tournaments and free public access to increase opportunities to play the sport in the Bay Area.

But the project was halted in March in the wake of community opposition, with neighbors expressing concern about the safety to parkgoers and wildlife when discs are thrown, as well as environmental impacts from the course. Among the opponents was In Defense of Animals, which claimed to rally 5,000 of its supporters to write to the Richmond City Council urging them to reject the proposal. The Bay Area-based animal rights group said allowing a disc golf course would displace and harm wildlife in a “near-hidden oasis” while also potentially harming people and property in the area.

“As a person who lives right up against the park land, and who loves animals and trees, I was thrilled with the vote, as we all are at In Defense of Animals,” said Anita Carswell, spokesperson for the organization.

Additional groups expressed concerns that the proposal lacked adequate public vetting. At the time the project was halted, work at the site had included clearing bushes and removing a dead tree, city staff said. Moving forward, city staff and the Rec and Parks Commission have been tasked with developing a process and policy to “codify requests for similar items for City Council approval,” Marharaj said.

Members of the East Bay Golf Club felt blindsided by the opposition and subsequent “political maneuvering” that moved to cancel the project. The group’s president, Jon Braidman, said the club had entered into the project in good faith and was initially under the impression the disc golf course was welcome and had gone through the proper channels. In the end, he said the club was not afforded adequate opportunity to respond to critics.

Disc golf course supporters have argued that the course installations involve minimal removal of plant life and actually increase safety by increasing foot traffic in parks, leading to reductions in criminal activity such as vandalism.

“The residents who live around this park had been very effectively turned against our project, and it is correct that the commission should vote in a way that reflects the will of those people,” Braidman said, adding that the club would not appeal the commission’s decision.

 “We will need to work towards educating the public,” he added.

The club may look for other Richmond sites and is working to finish the installation of a course in San Leandro at Oyster Bay, “which will be a good demonstration of what our community can bring to under-utilized land in the Bay Area.”