Gagging the Green Giants

Summit folks tee-ed off over proliferation of golf courses

By Kim Marquis, SFP Oct 2000

Believe it or not, the number of golf courses in Summit County is currently equal to the number of ski resorts, and by spring next year, golf courses will out-number ski areas when a fifth course opens in Silverthorne. But here's the real shocker: The number of golf courses in the county is set to double - to eight-and-a-half courses - if applications filed with the county planning department are approved.

And that's not counting a possible course on the Frisco Peninsula, an issue that is again rearing its ugly head with the formation of a recreation committee that seems stacked with pro-golfers set on greening the town's coveted 200-plus acres, currently used for hiking, fishing, softball, biking, disc golf and camping.

In response to the development of golf courses across the county, some residents are beginning to ask whether this type of recreational development is appropriate for a mountain community.

In the Lower Blue River Valley, for example, as the master plan is re-written with citizen involvement, residents are considering whether golfing is consistent with the "rural" character of the area north of Silverthorne. Some people say that a golf course is better defined as commercial development, and northern Silverthorne is not appropriate for the clubhouses, beverage carts, tee boxes and increased traffic golfing will bring.

If current proposals are approved, the Lower Blue Valley will hold five courses alone. In May, the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks will open; the town and county are currently considering a golf course and surrounding community called Buffalo Mountain Ranch, north of the Ptarmigan subdivision; and recently, plans for two more golf course communities were submitted to the county planning department - Quaking Creek Ranch located on the east side of Highway 6 north of the gravel pits, and Maryland Creek Ranch, which proposes two 18-hole courses on the L.G. Everist property and surrounding hillsides.

These last two applications were submitted in direct response to the Growth Initiative (Amendment 24) to be decided by voters in the November election. The projects were two of more than 50 development applications the county planning department received in response to the possible outcome of the vote. Rather than pursue the applications now, the county has encouraged the developers to participate in the master planning process currently underway in the basin.

One of the key tenants of the Lower Blue Master Plan is to keep the rural character in the valley. As the master plan is re-written, it remains to be seen whether the public will consider golf courses an appropriate land use. If not, it is not likely that golfing for the Quaking Creek Ranch or Maryland Creek Ranch will be approved.

In direct reaction to Buffalo Mountain Ranch, in which developers are attempting to annex more than 500 acres of county land currently zoned A-1 into the town of Silverthorne, some 40 residents have formed an action committee to focus on impacts associated with the project.

The group, called Silverthorne Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (SANFRG), is headed by Mary Ellen Gilliland. There are many specifics involving wildlife and wetlands, density, infrastructure and water, but to Gilliland, the basic question is whether the town is ready for a change in character. "We're looking at a huge issue here," Gilliland said. "We're looking at a project that will impact the town and its residents in ways we can't even imagine. It's the golf course, yes, but it's also the homes, commercial and retail development around it. Do we want the annexation? Do we want to change the agriculturally zoned land into a property that will be jammed? Do we want the traffic, the congestion and the change in the character of the town?

"The meadow where the golf course is proposed is characteristic of the lands north of Silverthorne, which are pastoral and have a sweeping view," she continued. "While a golf course is often attractive to look at, it's not pastoral and it's not a sweeping view. It has the human print on it."

For Mark Campione, a Ptarmigan homeowner, the main issue with the proposed resort community is traffic. "Silverthorne is the only town in Summit County that does not rely on resort development," Campione said. "Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, they all have a ski area and they all have a golf course and they all need four-lane roads going to them. A a recent meeting many residents said they want to keep the two-land road in the Lower Blue, but that won't happen with all this development. It didn't happen in Breckenridge with Highway 9 and it didn't happen in Keystone with Highway 6."

As a property owner, Campione notes that a golf course will raise his property values, but he does not support it because he's more concerned with Silverthorne's character and how it will be affected by resort development.

"I think most people would rather not see a golf course, but we don't have as much control over that since it's private property," he said. "In my opinion, one more golf course community in Silverthorne is too many - not one more and maybe two more down the road. That would be four in our little valley. This is just like ski area expansions - it's not just development for the amenity of golf, it's to sell expensive homesites next to it. I'm willing to give up some property value to protect my way-of-life. Property values have already gone up tremendously. How greedy are we going to get?"

Since most of the surrounding residents rely on ground-water wells, the neighbors are also concerned how erosion, leeching of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizer may effect water quality.

"Many of the local neighbors are not on town water and they have shallow ground-water wells, so they're concerned about contamination," Gilliland said.

Environmental concerns

Golf courses have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment by disturbing wetlands, flood plains, riparian zones and forests with the creation of fairways, greens, tees, sand traps and water hazards, which can disrupt wildlife and the natural processes that maintain stream quality.

In addition, large applications of fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals are required to maintain attractive greens. According to the Center for Watershed Protection in Washington, D.C., in many cases, application rates of such chemicals to maintain golf courses can rival and even exceed those used in intensive agriculture.

Golf courses are also intensive water consumers, placing strains on the local water supply. A report done in Eagle County for Vail Resorts' Red Sky Ranch concluded that the course, located near Wolcott west of Vail, would use 1,043,000 gallons of water per day, or the consumptive equivalent per year of a small city of people, more than 5,500 people.

The golf industry promotes "best practices" policies to mitigate the impacts of golf courses, which include detailed plans for building, operating and maintaining courses in an environmentally responsible manner. In the design phase, for example, golf course features may be modified to address wildlife migration patterns. There are procedures for safe handling, application and storage of turf-grass chemicals and recycling systems for wash water. Monitoring programs are set up to check for safe water quality in ground and surface water, and these reports are compared with state water quality standards. An extensive program was proposed in Eagle County for Red Sky Ranch, but according to Robert Ray, watershed services program director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, although such technology is becoming more widely accepted and used in the industry, golf course designers and operators can't be counted on to use it. The "best management" practices are voluntary, and compliance is not monitored.

"Very few golf courses actually do water quality monitoring," Ray said. He evaluates several golf course development applications each month for NWCCOG. "Most do some level of of soil monitoring, because from a cost perspective, it's good to know how much fertilizer to apply."

Environmental impacts are individual to each golf course, Ray said. For example, some projects have wildlife migration corridor or endangered species habitat issues. But for the most part, each golf course - and there are tens of thousands of them across the country - disturbs about 100-200 acres of soil, and long-term, constitutes the constant application of chemicals and subsequent threat to the water supply. "To me, the cost to play the game is indicative of the amount of natural resources and intensity of management it takes to keep something like that going," Ray said. "Compare the cost of a round of golf to skiing. The average cost of a lift ticket is $40. Golf seems like it costs three times as much. To my way of thinking, that gives you an idea of the overall impact to society of a recreational usage of our resources."

With limited resources on earth, many environmentalists ask how much should be used for recreational activities.

"I kind-of see a golf course like a ski area," Ray said. "It's not a need - people just want to go out there and play."


With the appointment of several new representatives to Frisco's government last April came the promise to revisit the issue of building a golf course in town. New Councilor Dede Dighero-Tuso and the new mayor, Bob Moscatelli, vocally support considering a golf course again.

In 1993, town residents voted 336 to 289 to not spend money in the pursuit of a golf course on the peninsula. The losers, many of whom were members of a Frisco Lakes, Parks and Open Space committee, included then-mayor Jim Spenst and local realtor Chris Eby, who were recently appointed to a new recreation committee.

Kevin Knappmiller, one of few people sitting on Frisco's town boards (he is a member of the planning commission) who speaks against a golf course, dubs the sport "classist," and says it's inappropriate for a municipality to subsidize such an activity. The town owns 217 acres on the Peninsula; the majority of the land is National Forest.

"If it's private land and private money, you can complain about it and try to hold their feet to the fire to mitigate impacts, but you really can't stop it," Knappmiller said. "But if you look at something like the Frisco Peninsula, that's a great resource for the community for cheap activities like hiking. Golf is relatively expensive and even when it's subsidized, is it something the community as a whole can use? The answer for the most part is no."

The recreation committee recently chose a consultant to draw up a comprehensive recreation facilities plan. The final plan will go to the voters, possibly in April with a special election, or in November, 2001. The proposal will be all-inclusive, in which voters will be asked to accept the entire recreation plan - not just to decide "yes" or "no" on one project such as a golf course. The thinking seems to be that people may be more inclined to vote for something if it includes at least one amenity they desire, rather than continue to deny each other, as was the case with golfing in 1993 and an ice rink several years later.

One point that dismays many residents is that a choice to do nothing doesn't seem to be in the cards. Maybe, as one Frisco resident pointed out, most of the anti-golfers have moved out of town, and those people remaining or who have moved here recently are mostly older folks who like golf. But, maybe not. So if you don't want to see golf in Frisco, said the resident who wished to not be identified, make sure you're registered to vote.

Golfing in Summit County

Current Courses:
o Keystone Ranch Course
o Keystone River Course
o Copper Mountain's Copper Creek
o Breckenridge Golf Course

In the Works:
o Three Peaks in Silverthorne
o Breckenridge's additional 9 holes
o Buffalo Mountain Ranch

On the Drawing Board:
o Quaking Creek Ranch
o Maryland Creek Ranch (2)

On the Horizon:
o Frisco Peninsula

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