Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The battle for Milby Park, Houston's next disc golf course

A couple weeks ago the Houston Flying Disc Society (HFDS) put on a "mini" tournament at a disc golf course that does not yet exist.

The venue was Milby Park, a strip of green in the far southeast corner of the 610 Loop along Sims Bayou, in the shadow of pluming refineries and surrounded by industrial wasteland. And while that doesn't sound like an idyllic setting, the park itself is quite lovely.

A player at the inaugural Milby Park mini tees off on the back 9
People organizing the tournament told me that the grounds of Milby Park comprise the old estate of Charles Milby, a hotelier and general entrepreneur who was a major figure in Houston in the early 20th century. What is presumably the estate house, constructed of stone bricks and scattered shell fossils, still stands in the center of the park. The park itself is made up of rolling hills and majestic centuries-old oak trees. In short, it's perfect for a disc golf course.

Course designers Derek Lang and Paul Williams discovered the park a few months ago and have laid out a challenging 18-hole course. Saturday, March 2 was the first time there had ever been 18 baskets out there. About 25 people showed up to play. It was a blast, even though I lost my most cherished disc  in the toxic bayou waters - an old Z-Buzzz that my wife won when she was crowned the Victorian State women's champ in Melbourne, Australia, in 2008. (I had two aces on that disc, including a $450 ace pot a couple years ago... Goodnight, sweet disc.)

The course is as shovel-ready a project as there is. The layout is just about perfect and HFDS has the funds to buy all the baskets and install them today. Once installed, it would instantly be the best disc golf course in the Loop area. But there's a catch.

Derek and Paul have gotten provisional approval from Houston Parks and Rec to build the course. But, according to them, one member on the board, once he heard there were plans afoot, announced that he had been planning to turn the unused land into soccer fields (it is located in a Hispanic part of town and soccer fields, presumably, would be popular for the local community). The board member is thus blocking full approval for the park.

According to Derek and Paul, the board member has no concrete plans, just a distant desire to build the soccer fields, unlike HFDS which is ready to build this course today. Furthermore, dude's plan would presumably require the leveling of all the hillsides and the felling of dozens of ancient trees. The City of Houston is currently spending millions of dollars to replant trees that were killed in the devastating drought of recent years. These trees survived. To spend tens of thousands of dollars to kill living, thriving trees that likely predate the city itself would not only be a colossal waste of cash, it would be a reprehensible act against nature and common decency.

It beggars belief that this could actually be true, and frankly, I don't know the whole story. But there are several indisputable facts: Milby Park indeed already has a few soccer fields (and tennis courts) that don't look like they've been used in years. The course as its laid out would not impede on those existing fields, and both sports could easily co-exist. The course layout also takes advantage of a part of the park that, judging by the lack of litter, is rarely visited (the only park-users I saw on the windy late winter day I was there were a handful of fishermen, casting reels into the bayou sludge). Disc golf may not be an economic revitalizer, but disc golfers are generally good stewards of the land. If Parks and Rec turned Milby into a disc golf course, traffic to the park would skyrocket. If nothing else, let HFDS build it's course and see what happens. If it's a dud and the soccer players revolt, bring in the bulldozers. It seems like a no brainer. (We'll ignore for now the consequences of playing an aerobic game like soccer only 1000 yards or so away from a bank of oil refineries.)

As a disc golfer and as a citizen of this city and a user of its parks, I hope Parks and Rec gets their priorities straight and lets this project go ahead.

1 comment:

Matthew Frink said...

Once again proving that you write for your peeps:

"Furthermore, dude's plan would presumably require the leveling of all the hillsides and the felling of dozens of ancient trees."