Pioneer Park's disc golf course drew support from some Billings City Council members Monday night, but the council wants more input from the City Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board before determining the course's fate.
City Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney told the council that disc golf has grown enormously since the course was put in at Pioneer Park in 1999. He said problems such as vandalism, late-night games and excessive wear on the grass at the city park have grown along with the pastime. The city of Billings is considering relocating the Pioneer Park disc golf course or making changes to it to address concerns by nearby residents who have been awakened by games late at night and had players trespass on their property to retrieve stray discs.
"I think that everybody underestimated the amount of use the course would get," Kearney said. "We like the activity, we just want to decide what is compatible for the park."
Parks and Recreation Board member Denis Pitman said that when the board discussed concerns about Pioneer Park's disc golf course at its June meeting, they heard from only one group — neighbors upset by excessive use of the course. Since that time, through news reports, Pitman said he's heard from the other side — the folfers who want to keep their course.
"We've got to come up with a solution, not just kicking them out or letting them run the park," Pitman said.
At the City Council work session Monday night, Ward 1 council woman Shirley McDermott suggested reducing the size of the 18-hole Pioneer Park course to a 9-hole course and adding another course in a different city park. Kearney said the board has considered using three city parks for folf, including Mystic, High Sierra or Riverfront.
McDermott said she has concerns about using Mystic Park, which is along the BikeNet path, because it has limited access. She suggested forming a committee — including disc golfers and city staff — to examine the problems and offer solutions.
"We could form a committee like we did with the skate park people," McDermott said. "It took them a while, but they worked everything out."
Ward 5 council member Don Jones said disc golfers use parts of the park, including the north end, that weren't used much in the past.
"I think it's a great use of that part of the park," Jones said. "It gets the kids off of 24th Street West. I think we need to find activities for our youths to get involved in."
Ward 4 council woman Doris Poppler said she wanted to let the Parks and Recreation Board know that some council members, including herself, have concerns about keeping the course at Pioneer Park.
In other business, the City Council discussed the Swords Park Master Plan. Gene Blackwell, city parks and forestry supervisor, told the council that there are unresolved issues relating to land ownership, access and park preservation. Blackwell said he is seeking council direction on those issues.
At a public meeting in May, representatives of the Swords family expressed opposition to the master plan. In response to their concern, the draft master plan was modified and the new entrance was moved farther west to create a longer entrance drive with more overlooks. In July, city representatives met with members of the Swords family to address concerns related to reduction of vehicle access to the park. The family requested additional vehicle access to Yellowstone Kelly's grave site and Skeleton Cliff interpretive sites. The request has been included on a master plan alternative, Blackwell said.
Also Monday, the council heard a proposal by Rocky Mountain College administrators to build additional student housing to provide rooms for the school's growing number of students. Jon Phillips, RMC vice president of administration and finance, asked the City Council to issue tax-deferred bank notes to allow the school to finance the project.
Under the proposal, the college's existing $4.3 million in tax-exempt notes, issued by Yellowstone County, would be rolled into the new issue of bank notes, bringing the total to $10 million.
Such bonds are specific to 501 c-3 organizations, like RMC, Phillips said. The project is the 10th major construction project undertaken by RMC since 1995.
The city would not be held liable for the amount of the bonds, and except for time spent by city staff setting up the bonds, there would be no expense on the part of the city.
"It's a great way for an important organization to partner with the city," Mayor Chuck Tooley said.