A recent sunny day at Blue Mountain painted the perfect picture of summer in Missoula as hundreds of folfers swarmed the popular disc golf course. The crowd consisted of mostly young disc tossers—the types who are regularly charged with lounging on the couch, playing video games, trying meth, or otherwise ignoring the great outdoors.
Normally, we’d celebrate such an encouraging scene. But while throngs of folfers flocked to Blue Mountain, Missoula’s more established—and historically more popular—disc golf course remained vacant and closed. Signs at Pattee Canyon warn that anyone caught “throwing a Frisbee, folf disc or similar object” before July 1 is subject to a fine of up to $5,000. Yep, you read that right—five large for throwing a plastic disc (but not a ball) in the woods.
Why on God’s green earth would the Forest Service shut down the popular course during the high season? Mostly it’s to protect a specific meadow, and to do so they erected a fence—arguably more unsightly and intrusive than the footpaths it impedes—to cordon off part of the course.
The closure has successfully allowed native vegetation—including camas flowers—to return, but it hasn’t ended human impacts. Unintended trails have sprung up along the fence’s barbed perimeter as non-folfers continue to roam the area.
Perhaps more significantly, the Pattee closure has funneled even more recreationalists to Blue Mountain, where a doubling of the number of disc golfers is—surprise, surprise—doubling the impacts on that landscape, too.
We suggest the Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest, the agency managing the land for both courses, take a mulligan. The current closure is clearly causing more harm than it’s fixing.
That’s not to mention what the decision does to the future of the sport. Five years ago a veteran Lolo official told the Indy that “Folf is by far the biggest recreational use on the district, bar none,” and by all accounts it’s even more popular today. Yet, the only notable development from the Forest Service to meet this demand has been to shut out the district’s largest user group from its favorite course eight months of the year.
Just last year, Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell announced a $1.5 million plan to help get kids outside. “Our iPod-listening, ‘American Idol’-watching, Xbox-playing generation increasingly shows a propensity toward sedentary life, leading to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression,” she said.
Well, if the Forest Service continues to limit one of Missoula’s favorite reasons for getting off the couch, we can hardly blame a kid for choosing “Wii Golf” over disc golf.