By Beth Milligan
Traverse City Ticker (August 15, 2016)
Garfield Township staff and parks and recreation commissioners hope a new professionally designed 18-hole disc golf course at Silver Lake Recreation Area will attract more visitors to the 84-acre park. But a township trustee wants to put the brakes on the project, citing concerns from neighbors and a lack of public and board input on the course.
The township’s parks department began conversations about installing a new course last summer with Todd Lewis, the father of slain Traverse City teenager Carly Lewis. Shortly after Carly’s murder in June 2011, a nonprofit established by Todd in her honor – Carly’s Playground – opened a disc golf course at Mt. Holiday. The course operated for three years, until insurance concerns over its overlap with the park’s new zip lines forced Mt. Holiday to close the course last year.
“We knew we wanted more disc golf in the township,” says Garfield Township Deputy Planner Brian VanDenBrand. “After (Carly’s Playground) was removed from Mt. Holiday and was looking for a new home, we started looking at our parks. We explored Silver Lake…and last summer our parks and recreation board recommended we work with Todd to design a course.”
Following the board’s green light, Township Supervisor Chuck Korn signed an agreement with Carly’s Playground in February to design and implement a new disc golf course. The nonprofit worked with township staff and design consultants to lay out an 18-hole course. The planned route begins west of Silver Lake Recreation Area’s playground and restroom area, proceeding in a north-to-south “horseshoe” along Mud Lake and curving around Hidden Lake. The route doesn’t interfere with the park’s existing trail system or other recreational amenities, according to VanDenBrand, and will add new trails in some sections to bring visitors to underutilized areas of the park.
Over the last few months, an estimated two dozen volunteers have been working to clear fairways and brush and trim and remove trees to lay out the course in anticipation of a fall opening. Their work drew the attention of neighbors in the adjacent area – including Township Trustree Molly Agostinelli, who says it was the first she learned of the project.
“We have a master plan for the park that says those areas (the western side of the park) should ‘remain in a more natural state as a contrast to the developed land,’” says Agostinelli. The master plan also indicates that most recreational activities should be “concentrated” within the eastern half of the park, she notes. “To me, that gives the impression (the west section) is going to be a natural area. Disc golf is more of an active recreational activity. This seems like a big deviation from our plan.”
Agostinelli, who says several neighbors have contacted her expressing concerns the course will bring noise and traffic to the more secluded section of the park, believes the disc golf course constitutes a “major amendment” to the Silver Lake Recreation Area master plan. Such an amendment would require trustee review. “It didn’t go through the proper process,” she says. “I believe the board should have been notified and had public hearings where people could express their concerns. It’s not about whether you like disc golf or not. It’s about whether (staff) overstepped their bounds.”
VanDenBrand acknowledges staff “should have gone to the trustees” sooner to inform them of the course plans. But “in this particular case, we didn’t feel it was out of line with the master plan or that we needed board approval,” he says. “The park plan describes disc golf in a smaller section of the park. The (new) design allowed us to expand and use areas of the parks that are not being used. You don’t know half of (the course) is even there.”
Township trustees will meet August 23 at 6pm at Garfield Township Hall to discuss the project. Agostinelli says the primary focus will be on whether the course constitutes a major amendment to the Silver Lake park master plan, as well as the process by which staff reviewed and approved the project. Whether the course plans could be delayed or scuttled, or will require a trustee vote to proceed, depends on the outcome of that discussion, according to Agostinelli.
For his part, VanDenBrand hopes township officials will be receptive to the project. Garfield Township has “over 500 acres of parkland” protected with conservation easements or dedicated as natural areas, with Silver Lake offering one of the only sites for recreational activity, he says. The course is designed to blend in with the park’s natural elements, and will cost the township roughly $2,000, according to VanDenBrand. The rest of the materials and costs are being donated by Carly’s Playground. “It’s such a win-win for us, because (Carly’s Playground) has a new home, and we have very little township money into what’s going to be an awesome resource for the community,” VanDenBrand says.
Todd Lewis is also hopeful the course will be allowed to proceed, saying it will take pressure off Hickory Hills Ski Area and offer more recreational opportunities for residents. “Carly loved disc golf and the social benefits of it, and I’ve been involved in it for a long time,” he says. “This (project) was a way I knew I could give back to the community that gave so much to our family when we needed them.”
Pictured: Carly’s Playground disc golf basket at Silver Lake Recreation Area