Every vote mattered on Tuesday afternoon, when Kamloops council approved a new disc golf-nature park for vacant land on McArthur Island.
“Obviously, we’re very excited. The disc golf club’s been working really hard. I myself have been working really hard on this project for a while and we’re looking forward to working with the Naturalist Club and the city in putting together a space that’s the best for all of us,” Kamloops Disc Golf Club president Ben Laidlaw said.
In a 5-3 vote and under intense pressure from user groups — which have lobbied since the civic election and filled council chambers on multiple occasions, including Tuesday — Sadie Hunter was the final councillor to support the recommended multi-use park, including a controversial 18-hole disc golf course.
Calling it an “emotional decision,” Hunter said she saw the issue from both sides, being educated in environmental sciences, but also as a former single mother who sought inexpensive recreation in the city. The latter point ultimately swayed Hunter.
“I will be supporting the motion as is going forward,” she said, tipping the vote toward its ultimate passing.
Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Kathy Sinclair, Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai also voted in favour, while councillors Arjun Singh, Dieter Dudy and Denis Walsh were opposed. Coun. Dale Bass was away on vacation and a tie vote would have defeated the proposal.
The vote followed a staff presentation on the multi-use park, set to occupy 7.5 hectares of land formerly home to the McArthur Island Golf Course. In 2017, Bill Bilton terminated his lease of the course following flooding and relinquished the land to the city, which owns the property.
The park plan includes walking paths, picnic areas, running, hiking and biking trails, a natural playground, interpretive signage, a refurbished mini-golf course and an 18-hole disc golf course.
It came following direction from council to work with the Kamloops Naturalist Club and Kamloops Disc Golf Club on a plan for the space — consultations that began last year and did not go smoothly, resulting in the difficult decision councillors were faced with on Tuesday.
Singh said it has been “painful” to see division over the fate of the land and encouraged unity following council’s decision.
“It’s been interesting how divided people have become on this piece of dirt,” he said.
The Kamloops Naturalist Club maintained the two concepts were incompatible. Members took to the podium on Tuesday, voicing concerns about safety (flying discs hitting people) and impacts on pollinators (poor garden placement in the city’s plan). Previous concerns were also related to impacts on wildlife.
The club put forward what it called a compromise, which would have secluded a smaller nine-hole disc golf course into one corner of the park and kept the rest of the area natural. Also at issue was a so-called Peace Park proposal by Kamloops Rotary West Club.
Staff told council the park design had yet to be finalized and the pollinator gardens could be moved. Safety was apparently not an issue, either. Staff told council they had not heard of issues related to discs hitting and injuring people during visits to other disc golf courses in the province.
The disc golfers in the room circulated plastic discs — smaller and more pliable than what you would find at the beach — to council members. In addition, the city’s risk manager determined no liability or safety concerns.
“We’re lucky because we’re starting from ground zero,” city nature crew leader Kirsten Wourms said.
Councillors who opposed the draft concept had concerns about the size of the space, public consultation that determined passive recreation among top priorities (though staff said disc golf is, in fact, passive) and potential for an accordion-style setup staff did not entertain that could have apparently resulted in half of the disc golf course taken down when not in use by tournaments.
“Public consultation hasn’t really supported this activity in that location,” Singh said, opposing the motion.
O’Reilly said marginalized populations could tent and sleep in the area, due to the location on McArthur Island complete with trees and gullies. City of Kamloops community and protective services director Byron McCorkell said that has been an issue.
“For this specific park, being active is key,” O’Reilly said.
Christian agreed and noted a recent tour of the area with city staff suggested an impending urban deer problem and ultimate culling that could be required. He said the riparian area is best suited for attracting native bird species’ and activity around the perimeter would get people into the park. Further, Christian said the city has an abundance of natural areas, including Peterson Creek and Kenna Cartwright Park, noting he has a hard time seeing a reclaimed sewage lagoon-garbage dump as a nature park.
Sarai encouraged the Kamloops Naturalist Club to continue working with the city.
It had threatened to walk away from the table, though club member — and face of the club’s campaign — Jesse Ritcey would not go that far when speaking to KTW after council’s decision.
“We’re very disappointed because we feel over 700 people strongly endorsed the Naturalist Club’s vision,” Ritcey said. “The city decided to go in a different direction today.”
Ritcey said Tuesday’s vote was only the “first step,” noting Bass was absent and the project still needs to go to supplemental budget talks in February. During the civic election campaign forum, Bass supported a mixed-use park due to free recreation for families.
The project will now head to supplemental budget discussions in February. Staff are asking for $198,000 in 2019 to remove old infrastructure, clean up the site, refurbish the mini-golf course and add the disc golf course.
City parks manager Jeff Putnam told KTW after the decision the park could be in use as early as this summer, should council elect to move ahead during budget talks.
“It may take two or three months to make it safe, get rid of derelict bridges, get the trails going, get the disc golf course set,” he said. “We can move pretty quick.”