By Kevin Davis
It was a cold and cloudy January afternoon when I pulled into the parking lot. The guys had already assembled at the picnic bench, where they bantered and waited to divide teams. We separated into groups and I met my teammates. Most of them I met for the first time, and we bonded right away, all of us spiting the weather on a gray day and excited for the next two hours of sport and camaraderie. I always considered disc golf a summer sport. These guys were regulars, at it most every week rain or shine, and I have to admit I was a little nervous when I let my first shot fly. It flew out of sight, over a ridge into the trees but they reassured me I would be OK.
And that is how it has been with the Baldfoot Disc Golf course from the beginning – tremendous support from a core group of dedicated disc golfers and broad support from the community. In the beginning, the property was thick brush and trees with a shady stream running through it. Volunteers began clearing the brush to access the land easier. They spent hours chainsawing brush and overgrown saplings, limbing up trees and clearing the land. Work began in earnest in 2014. Steve Mix and Brandon Kaastad — both lethal with a chainsaw — were instrumental in getting the project started with hours of hard work. After five years and about 12,000 volunteer hours, the course is well-manicured with trails, bridges, benches, tee boxes, hole markers with yardage, Innova baskets and an informational kiosk.
One of the founders of Baldfoot, Rick Leader, has had a vision for a disc golf course in Sandpoint for a long time. The city allowed him to develop the course on a 32-acre parcel of land at the foot of Baldy Mountain Road, just across the tracks. He has tried other locations in Sandpoint but he admits that this location is the best.
“Baldfoot is considered a true shooter’s course in the region,” Leader said.
Leader has designed eight disc golf courses, and four of them are still in active play. He didn’t just lay out the property for disc golf. There’s potential for a waking path, a dog park and space for bike tent camping.
“The property is 32 acres of multiple-use,” said John Gaddess, treasurer of the Sandpoint Disc Golf Association. “We get regular visits from Washington and Montana. Old folks, school groups, teenagers people walking dogs all use Baldfoot.”
He would know. John plays almost every week, all year round.
“In 2016 we had 5,808 players, and that is from counting the dollars in the registration box,” Gaddess said. “Not everyone pays the dollar fee. It’s more like one out of 10 actually pays, so I think we are getting a lot more use than we think.”
The dollars raised by the course fee go back into improving the course, and half goes to the Eureka Institute.
Steve Holt is the founder of the Eureka Institute who obtained the insurance license to operate the disc golf course.
“It fits well with the overall mission of the Eureka Institute to promote learning and encourage outdoor recreation,” Holt said.
Holt and the Sandpoint Disc Golf Association have been keeping a close eye on recent dealings with the property since the city has made some changes in their master plan which includes the waste water treatment plant. The 32-acre parcel was bought by the city with the sewer fund with the intention to develop a new waste water treatment site there. Instead, the city decided to upgrade the existing facility behind Memorial Field. This meant the sewer fund didn’t need the 32 acres, and if there was no need for it or no money to purchase it, it would have to be disposed; and that means to the highest bidder. The sewer fund is limited to spending money only on waste water treatment and must strive to keep its rate payers whole.
Kaniksu Land Trust has expressed interest in partnering with SDGA to secure the property. Regan Plumb, conservation director with KLT, says the disc golf course aligns well with their mission also of promoting conservation, education and connection with the outdoors for a broad range of community members. Plumb says that KLT is awaiting the outcome of the new city parks masterplan to help inform the next steps.
The old city masterplan from 2010 and the section addressing parks, recreation and trails is being rewritten. A recent meeting in April 2019 extended the operational lease with The Eureka Institute and SDGA for another year.
“The course is a good boost for the local economy since people come in from out of town, go out to eat, spend the night and they’ll tell their friends,” Leader said.
Since Baldfoot was developed, Big 5, Outdoor Experience, Greasy Fingers and Chain Smokin’ Disc Golf at the tattoo shop now all offer discs and disc golf gear, Gaddis said. The benefits are obvious: green space for Sandpoint residents, outdoor activities for youth and friends, attracting visitors for the economic boost and creating a community gathering place.
“Ultimately, the masterplan has to consider the needs of the city first,” said City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.
If you are an avid disc golfer, you’ll want to get your comments in. The extension gives people a chance to see what is out there and comment to their commissioners. Coming up, for instance, is the “Lost in the Fir Trees” tournament fundraiser, May 18, to help raise money to pay the interest on the property loan. Check out the Facebook site. If you don’t have an opinion one way or another, show up at the Baldfoot course almost any day at 2 p.m. You’re likely to find some eager people gathering to play a round. I have a strong suspicion that after 18 holes you’ll be amazed at the craftsmanship of the course, the beauty of the landscape, and you’ll have a smile on your face even after bouncing your disc off numerous trees. But whatever you do, don’t call it “folf.” That’s sure to get you a bunch of frowns.
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