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The lines are drawn, and the split in the community over disc golf in Pioneer Park appears fairly even.

Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney said his e-mails on the issue pretty much balance out. Fifty percent want the course removed from the city park, and the other half don't.

"It's very controversial," Kearney told the City Parks and Recreation Board on Wednesday.

Opponents of the course believe disc golf is inappropriate at Pioneer Park because the popular sport is tearing up the grass, damaging trees and posing a safety hazard to other people in the park. But just as many people think the sport provides inexpensive recreation for all ages and brings players to Pioneer Park who may not ordinarily use the city parks.

Even individuals on the Parks and Recreation Board say they are torn between preserving the park and providing space for a popular recreational sport such as disc golf.

"In some ways, I agree with (council member) Don Jones that, if there is anything we can do to keep in the park, we should try," said Parks Board member Jim Collins. "At the same time, there are some problems with it."

Because there are so many different perspectives on the issue, the board concurred Wednesday with an idea that emerged at Monday night's Billings City Council meeting: Form a committee to help decide the fate of disc golf in city parks.

The committee, which could meet as early as next week, will include disc-golf players and non-players who use Pioneer Park, Park Board members, city staff and members of the Billings Police Department.

One major issue that needs to be resolved soon, the Park Board decided, is whether a disc-golf disc, which is weighted to allow it to fly farther than an ordinary disc, is considered a projectile.

A city ordinance prohibits projectiles from being used in city parks except in a defined area, such as tennis courts or baseball diamonds. Board member Denis Pitman said the question must be answered before the board, the citizen's committee or the City Council can decide whether to keep the course at Pioneer Park.

"The City Council needs to decide what are projectiles." Pitman said. "What if lawn darts are the next big thing? We need to go back to the premise of what is allowed in the park."

Kearney read city ordinance 19-208 to the board and then noted that he will have the city attorney make a decision on whether discs-golf discs are considered projectiles.

Most Parks Board members who attended Wednesday's meeting said they favor finding a compromise between neighbors' complaints about disc golf and wear and tear on the park and the request by disc-golf players and others to keep their course at Pioneer Park.

The course, which was set up in 1999 with the approval of the Park Board, used to have 18 holes. Two were removed by Air Fareways to address neighbors' complaints. Four other basket goals have been stolen in the last couple of weeks.

Air Fareways, started by disc-golfer Jim Rott, is a dues-paying organization that uses the course at Pioneer for league play.

Several ideas to alleviate safety issues at Pioneer Park and wear and tear on the park were discussed at Wednesday's meeting. They include:

- Providing rubber tee-pads that can be moved around to lessen the damage to grass and trees.

- Erecting better signs to show disc golfers the lay of the course so newcomers don't throw discs outside the course, possibly hitting a park visitor. Also, putting up signs to let other park visitors know there is a disc-golf course at the park so they will watch out for flying discs.

- Possibly limiting the course to nine holes at a time while maintenance is performed on the other nine holes.

- Selling city disc-golf use stickers with the discs at local sporting-goods stores to generate revenue to help maintain the course.

- Adding disc-golf courses at other city parks to reduce the pressure on the course at Pioneer Park.

Jaci Webb can be reached at 657-1359 or at jwebb@billingsgazette.com.

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