Throughout the region, financially-strapped cities and counties are looking for ways to generate revenue. One idea – converting publicly owned park land into golf courses. Environmentalists hate the idea. But at least some government officials say a golf course is a way to make money and ease the burden on taxpayers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports on a battle over whether to turn part of a hardwood forest near Lake Superior into a golf course:
Throughout the Great Lakes region, financially strapped cities and counties are looking for ways
to generate revenue. One idea, converting publicly owned park land into golf courses.
Environmentalists hate the idea. But at least some government officials say a golf course is a way
to make money and ease the burden on taxpayers. Mary Stucky reports on a battle over whether
to turn part of a hardwood forest near Lake Superior into a golf course:
On a cold winter day, the air is still and quiet on Spirit Mountain, on the western side of Duluth,
Minnesota, a town on Lake Superior. There is a chalet and downhill ski area on one side of the
mountain, but for the most part, the forest is undeveloped.
“We’ll just walk up here a bit so you can see into the forest a bit more.”
Nancy Nelson is a local environmentalist who’s horrified at the thought of a golf course here.
“So, if the golf course were to be built that would all be clear cut and turned into turf grass.”
Spirit Mountain is owned by the city of Duluth. It has a unique mixture of ecosystems. There are
wetlands and small streams. Wildflowers cover the ground in the spring and there is old growth
forest including sugar maple, yellow birch and red oak. Outgoing Duluth Mayor Gary Doty
thinks the golf course is a good idea. The course would have taken 250 acres of the 2 thousand
“I saw this as a responsible activity with safeguards put in place to prevent problems with water
run-off and wetlands and trees and all those kinds of things.”
The Mayor says it would have been an environmentally responsible project. Environmentalist
Nancy Nelson disagrees.
“Once you clear cut an area it all starts over. It takes hundreds of years, at least, to get to the
stage that this forest is at. I just don’t think it’s a fair tradeoff to destroy something that’s taken
that long to develop just so we can build a golf course.”
But experts say building golf courses in natural areas is tempting for cash-strapped cities and
counties throughout the Great Lakes region. Brett Hulsey works with the Sierra Club to fight
plans for golf courses on government park land.
“Across the Great Lakes we see golf courses threatening our national parks, local parks, wetlands
and forests. They destroy habitat for wild animals, fish and wildlife. They increase
run off pollution and they also close off access to public areas.”
Hulsey says trees are cut down, lawn chemicals are used and to even walk through the area you
have to pay greens fees. The Sierra Club website keeps track of places where parkland is
threatened by golf course development.
But as for the course on Spirit Mountain, Mayor Doty says it’s been stopped, at least for now,
stopped by what Doty calls extreme environmentalists who blindly oppose development.
“I don’t think we should take every tree down and build parking lots and hotels and
condominiums every place in town. But I looked at what was good for the community. And
what was good for the community was to develop an environmentally sound golf course and it
still leaves a lot of wooded lands that people would be able to enjoy outside of using the golf
But environmentalists say the world doesn’t need a another golf course. They say, there are too
many now. Since the Spirit Mountain course was first proposed 9 years ago, the popularity of
golf has waned, according to the Sierra Club’s Brett Hulsey, with the supply of golf courses now
“We’re seeing a lot of golf courses struggling. The bloom is definitely off the golf course rose
and local governments should take a real hard look at whether this is the best way for them to
raise local money.
And so some experts say that in the future, the battle over turning park land into golf courses
might be won by environmentalists by default.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky.