By WIN GRUENING
This week, over the strident protests of some trail users, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee wisely approved a temporary pitch-and-putt 9-hole disc golf course at the Treadwell Mine Historic Site in Douglas. This approval would add another much-needed outdoor recreation venue for local residents.
Disc golf is a sport in which players throw a disc (similar to a Frisbee) at a target, or basket, using rules similar to golf. Most disc golf courses are built in more natural and less manicured environments than a regular golf course and require minimal maintenance while incorporating safety in their design.
The project would be located near existing walking trails, so it initially generated some concern among trail users worried about hiker safety. However, the Juneau Disc Golf Club, the project sponsors, have been responsive in addressing concerns through re-design and re-locating holes.
Two of Juneau’s most enduring qualities are its access to outdoor recreational opportunities and its commitment to shared, mix use of its public resources. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, city staff, school district, and a whole host of non-profits and volunteers deserve credit for championing and developing diverse recreational activities. They all play a vital role in the health and well-being of our youth and families.
A recent City Journal article citing an Aspen Institute survey on youth sports revealed that 45 percent of American parents saw a reduction in local community programs and sports teams during the pandemic. Significantly, 28 percent indicated their kids had lost interest in organized sports.
This has resulted in rising obesity rates and levels of depression. During the pandemic, Juneau, in particular, saw an unprecedented number of young people experiencing high levels of stress, thoughts of self-harm and suicide attempts. It’s a simple fact that activities that get kids off their couches, screens and phones is good for physical and mental health.
Juneau officials have recognized this and have included “diverse recreational assets and opportunities” as a goal in Juneau’s economic plan.
Recently, the Assembly approved an expansion of the municipally-owned ski area summer operation that will open up a whole host of new activities for visitors and residents (while allowing the ski area to be financially self-sufficient). The selection of a site at 35-Mile for ATV enthusiasts is another illustration that widens the diversity of recreational options available to residents.
Disc golf shares the benefits of the above examples and it’s now one of the most rapidly growing sports in the country. Idaho, for instance, has 143 courses, and Alaska has close to 50 throughout the state. The sport has been fully embraced in Juneau through a variety of programs sponsored by disc golf club. According to club officials, professional coaches taught around 1,000 students how to play disc golf in the 2021-2022 school year, at local schools at the elementary, middle, and high school level. Similar classes were taught in Skagway and Haines.
Discs and baskets were left at the schools so teachers could use them during gym class. Reportedly, participation percentages were remarkably high, engaging many students that previously didn’t enjoy gym class.
JDGC has five different leagues and sponsors tournaments throughout the year. The club also has a development league every Sunday and holds clinics to improve skill levels.
Juneau’s one existing 18-hole disc golf course near Lena Point is used by more experienced players. There is a need for an easier more compact 9-hole course for beginners to practice and learn on. The temporary Treadwell course is intentionally designed to accommodate beginners by limiting play to putting and pitching discs that are thrown shorter distances and at slower speeds (picture an executive par 3 golf course).
Unfortunately, before all the facts were known, opponents of the project mounted an anti-course petition drive, citing a few rare injuries that occurred in other states involving large, poorly designed disc golf courses located in heavily trafficked public parks. Their testimony at the hearing when the proposal was being considered offered no compromise.
The Treadwell course layout will locate holes so discs will not fly adjacent to or across published trails. In addition, disc golf club is only applying for a temporary permit on a first-year trial basis which will allow for further public comment.
Expansion of recreational venues throughout the borough is a top priority of the Assembly and enhances the quality of life for all residents, but especially our youth.
This Juneau Disc Golf Club project deserves a chance to succeed. Thanks to Juneau’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for giving them that opportunity.
After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.