Plans for a nine-hole disc golf course set in the wooded area between the Scout Cabin and the Indian Gardens ballfield parking lot, which have been progressing slowly and without much comment for more than a year, are suddenly receiving pushback from those who live close to the site.

The volume of that opposition increased, July 18, after Riverside Parks & Recreation Board member John McGlennon published a post on a local Facebook community page. While the post was mainly a call for volunteers to serve on an advisory committee for the initiative, what raised eyebrows was a statement that both the park board and village board “have approved provisions” for the course.

That appeared to be at odds with a letter from Recreation Director Ron Malchiodi, sent at the end of June to neighborhood residents. The letter indicated the layout of the course had not yet been confirmed, but it included a preliminary map for the nine-hole course.

Malchiodi had given village trustees a brief update on the disc golf initiative in April, at which time then-Trustee Edward Hannon urged him to solicit feedback from residents of the neighborhood, but there was no comment one way or another from other trustees. 

The village board has not approved any aspect of the proposal. While the board won’t be involved in any plan approval, the expenditure for it will need its approval, but that has not come before trustees yet.

Melinda Pruett-Jones, who lives across the street from the site, said she had drafted a letter following Malchiodi’s update in April, but held off sending it because she believed she and her neighbors would be hearing from the park board.

Their first contact was via Malchiodi’s letter at the end of June, and then came the July 18 Facebook post. Neighbors, seeing McGlennon’s post about the course having been “approved,” got the impression that the preliminary map was a done deal.

That Facebook post generated more than 100 comments and another post by Pruett-Jones’ husband, Steve, which contained the preliminary course map sent to residents by Malchiodi in June.

Two days later, Pruett-Jones, who said she also represented many of her neighbors, argued against the disc golf course at the July 20 meeting of the Riverside Board of Trustees, saying the plan presented “areas of serious concern.”

Chief among those concerns was safety, since the preliminary course layout showed hole locations not too far from Fairbank Road.

“It would have been really great if parks and rec had actually reached out to the residents while they were planning because then we would have been able to provide a lot of really valuable, real-life experience living across this very busy place,” Pruett-Jones said, “and to really understand the increasing negative interactions between vehicles, park users, pedestrians, cyclists, skiiers and dog owners that are constantly using this space throughout the year.”

Pruett-Jones also questioned how the installation of the disc golf holes, which are metal posts draped with chains to catch discs, would impact the natural setting of the wooded area.

“Based on the plan, they would be very visible from many houses,” Pruett-Jones said. “And for about seven months of the year when there are not leaves covering the deciduous trees, these structures would be visible completely to the residents during a time when the golf course likely would not be used.”

On the heels of all that, someone also began circulating a flyer to those living around Indian Gardens intended to whip up fear and opposition to disc golf.

“Enjoy the natural beauty of the Scout Cabin … while you still can,” the flyer stated. “The deer, the Scouts and the school kids … they’re going away.”

The flyer warned residents to “be prepared to be kicked out of your park when random strangers show up to play” and invited them to voice their displeasure to their “local trustee.” That trustee, Megan Claucherty, is referred to only by her first name, but the flyer also published her address.

Claucherty did not respond to an email from the Landmark asking for comment. Village President Joseph Ballerine, who told the Landmark he believes the disc golf proposal is an “exciting opportunity,” said singling out Claucherty and including her address was “just not right.”

“That’s bordering on intimidating an elected official,” Ballerine said. “We’ve debated a lot bigger things in this town than disc golf. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and we can move forward with something.”

As for the general message that a disc golf course would result in “random strangers” visiting Indian Gardens, Ballerine expressed disappointment.

“One of the things that bothers me is we’re back to the old stuff we’ve heard in Riverside — that the ‘other’ is going to be in our parks,” Ballerine said. “I thought we were beyond that stuff.”

By July 31, Save the Scout Cabin signs, implying that the village is contemplating the landmark’s removal, began popping up in the First Division. Meanwhile, the village of Riverside sought to head off the disinformation by publishing a disc golf FAQ on its website.

The disc golf advisory committee created to lay out a course has 25 members, and it met last week for the first time to go over the site.

The committee includes recreation officials, residents of Riverside’s First Division where the course would be located, and disc golf enthusiasts from other communities. At least one of the residents who lives across from the Indian Gardens site is part of the committee.

Elizabeth Kos, the chairwoman of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board, said she hadn’t seen the “scare” flyer that was circulated late last month, but said part of the group’s mission was to increase parks programming and usage.

“We’re trying to get more people in the parks, and I think people confuse Olmsted’s design with having pristine parks that don’t get used and are there just to look at,” said Kos, noting that the park board welcomes the public feedback, which has led them to research whether the disc golf hole structures can be removed during the winter and see what options there are for their construction, since most disc golf courses have hole structures embedded in concrete pads.

“We try to look for the least amount of impact on the area, and because [Indian Gardens] is in a floodway, we have to be careful about pouring concrete anywhere,” she said.

While she acknowledges there is some opposition from some neighbors, Kos said the park board’s duty is to weigh those concerns against residents voicing support for more recreation programming, especially for initiatives like disc golf, which appeals to teenagers.

“It’s a demographic that we’re really trying to serve because it’s a tough demographic to reach,” Kos said. “It seemed like a win all the way around.”

The size of the advisory commission, she said, was a good indication that the disc golf idea has pretty solid community support. However, she said, the park board has not been rushing this initiative through. The board has been talking about disc golf since at least early 2022.

It’s unlikely that the committee will be able to put together a final plan for review by the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board and for the village board to approve the expenditure in time for any disc golf course to be built this year.

A more likely scenario would be for the course to be built in spring 2024. As for locating such a course elsewhere in Riverside, that seems unlikely. 

The Indian Gardens location, said Kos, is the only area with enough space for disc golf without impacting ball field use, where the holes can be set back far enough from the roadway and where there’s off-street parking.

“It really does check all the boxes,” she said.