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Group pitches disc golf plans to St. Helens council

by: Katie Wilson, Nicholas Somppi, of Vancouver, Wash., throws his disc home into a metal score basket at a disc golf course May 18 at St. Johns’ Pier Park. A group of Portland disc golfers recently submitted a proposal to install a similar style course at McCormick Park in St.Helens.

The satisfying 'clink' of a small Frisbee-like disc flying on-target into a metal basket clashed with an exasperated sigh and a hard 'thunk' as another disc golfer threw his own disc wildly off course and into a tree trunk Friday afternoon.

On nice weekends, the sprawling 18-hole disc golf course at St. Johns' Pier Park is busy. Large groups replace the usual weekday traffic of single players and small groups, said disc golfer Jesse Randall who lives near the course and plays it regularly.

Disc golf - a game with the rules and sensibilities of golf, but with durable plastic discs replacing clubs and balls - could be coming to McCormick Park in St. Helens.

There is already a small, 9-hole course at Yankton Community Fellowship in St. Helens. But a group of disc golfers, most of them associated with Portland's Stumptown Disc Golf club, have something a little bigger and more challenging in mind.

Their proposal to install an 18-hole, beginner to-intermediate level disc golf course at McCormick Park was recommended by the city's Parks Department and presented to the St. Helens city council in a work session May 16.

The group envisions the course spreading out along the southern end of the park, near the creek and fitness trail, although the course would be designed to keep players away from these areas so it wouldn't conflict with the land's other uses.

Given the popularity - and relative cheapness of the sport ($8 for a disc and you're ready to go) - the golfers believe a course at McCormick Park would draw out-of-town visitors into the area, bring business to local stores and give residents another reason to be active outside.

'I think it's a good idea, personally,' said Thad Houk, city parks supervisor. He said the course provides another use for the property while costing the city nearly nothing.

The course would come with an estimated price tag of $14,860. Installation would require minimal construction, the proposal states, and would include clearing invasive plant species from play area, trimming trees and setting up teeoff points and metal baskets - the game's version of traditional golf's 'holes.'

In their proposal, Stumptown Disc Golf representatives asked the council to approve the course as an unfunded expenditure for the 2012-13 or 2013-14 fiscal year. The group said it would find funding elsewhere if the city can't meet the cost.

Since the initial pitch, St. Helens officials drafted a letter of approval supporting the proposed course, but stated the city would not give the group any money for installation.

The letter has been sent to the parks department for approval and the mayor is authorized to sign it if there aren't any changes.

According to City Recorder Kathy Payne, the city will also need to sign off on the course's final layout before the group begins construction.

Much, if not all, of the installation work would be completed by volunteers, said group member Steve Carson, co-owner of Firefly Disc Golf Promotions.

Carson has helped install multiple disc golf courses in Oregon and Washington and said the course at McCormick Park would likely take several months to complete.

Carson also addressed council members' concerns about who would be in charge of maintaining the course after it is installed. Carson said, in his experience, disc golf courses tend to maintain themselves and there are always volunteers willing to help.

'I can imagine a small town like this just blowing up with tons of interest,' said group member Jared Fischer, who grew up near McCormick Park.

The nearest 18-hole disc golf course to St. Helens is in Rainier's Trojan Park.