By ALAN SHACKLETON
The location of a disc golf course in Ashbridges Bay Park has highlighted the question of how pubic lands should be used.
The Beaches Disc Golf Course recently expanded its layout in the park to include nine additional holes, most of which are located in an area at the far west end of Woodbine Beach, past the volleyball courts.
A letter sent to Beach Metro News last week from Clyde Robinson, who is a member of Ashbridges Bay Nature Stewards, asked why there had been no public consultation or notice about the disc golf course extension and questioned the area it was built in.
“As a local naturalist and hearing from the nature community especially birders, in this day and age of being all inclusive, we’re all wondering why there was no consultation?” the letter read.
He said many in his group question the location for the disc golf course extension as it is in an area that was becoming more naturalized.
“A couple of years ago I was thrilled, and I’m assuming other nature or like-minded people were also, especially birders, to see that the formerly manicured beach was being changed to let nature take its course,” said Robinson’s letter.
The disc golf course consists of metal poles indicating the spots from where players are to throw their discs (or Frisbees) towards other metal poles holding up chain baskets which are the target.
The poles for the extension have been put in the area at the west end of Woodbine Beach that Robinson’s letter is concerned about as he worries it will lead to increased foot traffic and trampling which could impact birds and habitat.
Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford told Beach Metro News he is aware of those concerns.
“My office has heard from a handful of community members about the additional disc golf locations that have been added at Ashbridges Bay Park,” he said. “Initially there were some concerns because they were new and there wasn’t a lot of information about how or why they were put in.”
Bradford said communication from the City of Toronto could have been better about the building of the disc golf course expansion.
“Understandably, people wanted to know if there was due diligence and careful planning before they went in,” he said of the metal poles for the course. “To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of communication and this is something the city can do better as a whole and something I’m working hard to bridge every single day.”
The additional holes for the course are an extension to the original nine-hole Beaches Disc Golf Course which opened in November of 2018. The layout for those holes is mostly at the north end of the park, closer to the parking lots and Lake Shore Boulevard East.
The course, and the addition, were designed by Beaches Disc Golf Course, but the course itself is on City of Toronto property and is a recreational amenity offered for free by the parks department. Beaches Disc Golf Course has also designed courses in other Toronto parks and in the Scarlett Woods Golf Course.
Beaches Disc Golf Course is a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) which posts its code of conduct for players at each tee area. The Disc Golfer’s Code includes “no littering, graffiti, or abuse of equipment or flora.”
Bradford said the area where the disc golf expansion is located on the beach is not considered a protected naturalized area by the City of Toronto.
“To be clear, the area in question is part of the natural beach landscape at Ashbridges Bay Park, and is neither protected nor off-limits to anyone. It’s already a well-used section of the allowable off-leash dog area that exists from November 1 to March 31,” he said.
Disc golf has been growing steadily in popularity over the years, but exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic as people desperately looked for activities they could take part in outdoors.
“There have been thousands of rounds played and people have joined the (disc golf) community from all over the Beach neighbourhood,” said Jeffrey MacKeigan, Beaches Disc Golf Course organizer and designer of the Ashbridges Bay course.
It was that popularity that led to the desire to add a further nine-holes to the disc course layout in Ashbridges Bay Park from both the city parks department and Beaches Disc Golf Course.
“Many residents of the Beach neighbourhood have expressed how helpful this course was, not only for their physical health, but also for their mental health and wellbeing, especially during the pandemic,” said MacKeigan. “With the increasing usage and interest, and the benefits that people experience from playing, the idea to expand the course was an obvious solution.”
He said it was the city that determined where the disc golf course expansion would be located. “When building this course, we complied with every request made of us by the City of Toronto.”
According to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the City of Toronto did not consult with them on the location of the disc golf course addition.
“The City of Toronto did not request feedback from Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) on the location the new disc golf course expansion at the west end of Woodbine Beach,” the TRCA said in a statement emailed to Beach Metro Community News on Nov. 23.
“A disc golf course does not require a TRCA permit or approval,” said the statement. “TRCA continues to work with the city to improve ecological conditions in this area, including the expansion of the new sand dune habitats and the enhancement of wetland features.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE AND CORRECTION: An earlier filed version of this story included quotes from Devika Deonarine, City of Toronto spokesperson, who said the city had asked the TRCA for feedback on the location of the disc golf course’s expansion. That is not correct and this story has been changed in order to remove that inaccurate information.
A reader made Beach Metro Community News aware that he had been told feedback from the TRCA had not been sought. Beach Metro Community News then sought clarification from both the TRCA and the City of Toronto regarding whether feedback had been sought.
A statement sent to Beach Metro Community News on the morning of Nov. 26 by the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation department said:
“The city wishes to clarify that although there is a long history of working with the TRCA in this area along the waterfront, including partnership for invasive species and restoration work, the city did not request feedback from the TRCA on the location of the new nine hole disc golf course. A park amenity, like a disc golf course, does not require a TRCA permit or approval.
“We regret the error and will continue our ongoing commitment to improve ecological conditions in this area in partnership with the TRCA.”)
Devika Deonarine, spokesperson for the City of Toronto, said the parks department works “hard to balance the recreational needs of residents and the protection of naturalized areas.”
And it is the balancing of recreation uses and protecting natural areas that has come to the forefront with the Ashbridges Bay disc golf course expansion.
In his letter, Robinson said the rights of park users who come to enjoy nature must be part of that balancing act.
“People come to Ashbridges Bay Park from all over Toronto to view not only birds, but simply to have a relaxing walkabout of the park,” he said. “As COVID has proved, we all require time to relax, be with nature and to wind down. Some people call this forest bathing. I’ve been told the city wants to create recreational activities for people. That’s fine, but what about nature-minded people that enjoy their own activities?”
Deonarine said the Beaches Disc Golf Course was one of the ways the City of Toronto was providing residents with amenities and recreational activities during the pandemic and beyond. “Throughout the pandemic, Parks, Forestry and Recreation has worked to increase the available outdoor amenities and services to encourage Torontonians to have fun and stay active. This particular area is a dynamic beach environment that is open to all park users.”
In his letter, Robinson said the disc golf course addition will have an impact on the area in which it is located.
“If this course is allowed to stay, why weren’t the interests of non-disc golf players taken into consideration? I further find it strange that this area after being brought back to nature will now be trampled down by this disc golf course with their players’ errant disc throws.”
Bradford said no plants or trees were removed in the area where the course expansion was built and “existing desire-line pathways were utilized.”
He said the disc golf course does not exclude the use of the park space by others or for passive enjoyment of the area.
“The area is still open for dog-walkers, pedestrians, birders and everyone who currently enjoys the space,” said Bradford. “There are no plans, and never will be any plans, to fence off or restrict the space. There’s no plan to mow or remove any of the naturalized environment and the course was designed to allow the area to continue to naturalize. The newly planted trees can mature without any interference.”
He added that having people using the area for positive recreational experiences will also be good for the safety of people and the natural environment in Ashbridges Bay Park.
Along with a boon in recreational activities, this summer also saw huge crowds come to Woodbine Beach and Ashbridges Bay Park to take part in large parties and gatherings with illegal use of alcohol, fireworks, loud music, outdoor fires, and massive amounts of litter.
“City staff teams have been clearing out the collection of beer cans, liquor bottles and the general refuse while the course was being installed,” said Bradford. “Overall, the disc golf community will help keep the area cleaned up and leave it in a safer, cleaner condition than before.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been changed from the one originally filed to attribute quotes from the City of Toronto to spokesperson Devika Deonarine. An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed those quotes to another city spokesperson.