Township officials removed the course equipment last week because of what they say are ongoing problems with litter, beer cans and vandalism.
On Saturday, about 30 disc golf enthusiasts spent several hours picking up cigarette butts and debris from the 18-hole course.
“We picked up anything we saw out there in the woods,” said Fruitport resident Kevin Rogalla, who organized the cleanup. “Hopefully, this will let them know disc golfers care about the course and the park. We're not responsible for the vandalism.”
Rogalla also organized an online petition that he said disc golfers would present at the next Township Board meeting. He said more than 250 people have signed the document, which asks the township to return the course to the park.
In disc golf, players fling a Frisbee-like disc toward a wire basket several hundred feet away. Each throw counts as a stroke.
Rogalla, 20, said he hasn't seen much litter in the three months he's been playing the Rycenga Park course.
“I've seen a couple of cans and bottles, but I usually tried to pick them up if I saw any,” he said. “Disc golfers don't deserve to be treated this way. We're all pretty responsible people. This is just wrong.”
Rogalla said he was pleasantly surprised with the number of signatures on the petition he launched at www.change.org late last week. Several people wrote comments about the friendliness of disc golfers they've met on the course and blamed litter on park staff not emptying waste receptacles.
“A lot of people I don't know have been signing it, which is awesome,” Rogalla said. “It's good to see that people care about the course.”
Ferrysburg resident Julia Fullerton said she signed the petition because her son, Sam Fredricks, played the course for the past three or four years. Fullerton said she wants to learn the game.
“It's one of the few things he does outside,” she said of her son. “I think a lot of people like it. If there are issues, let's talk about the issues before you shut something down like that.”
Rogalla said he and course supporters plan to place a trash can at each of the 18 holes. They're approaching local businesses for donations, and several have already pitched in with bags and cans.
Township Supervisor John Nash said there have been ongoing problems with litter, profanity and destruction on the disc golf course since it opened in 2005. Nash said he was in favor of the course's installation six years ago, but ongoing problems have since soured him on it.
Nash said he was willing to listen to the petitioners, but it would be a board decision.
“I think we have the obligation to listen,” he said. “The bottom line is, we've been putting up signs for four years, saying 'don't do these things,' 'good people, please step up' — and the things continue to happen. It's unfortunate. We threatened and nothing happened. Now we take it out and a whole bunch of things happen.”
Nash said he and the Township Board would monitor the situation.
Disc golfer Cameron Cejmer, 21, said he misses the course already. He said it is unfair for township officials to blame golfers for misdeeds that could have been done by anyone using the park.
“I was here every day that I could be,” said Cejmer, who spent several hours Saturday walking the course with a trash bag in hand. “When I play here, I see friends that I haven't seen since graduation. It's almost like a high school reunion out here. It's a walk through the woods, having a good time with buddies. Nobody really loses at our sport.”
Twin Lake resident Jake Cummins showed up Saturday with a bag of discs on his shoulder, unaware that the course was closed.
“This is very upsetting," he said. "I drove all the way out here (to play)."
Cummins said he hadn't been to the course in about a year, but that he had never seen any problems.
“This was a nice little course,” he said.
Township Manager Gordon Gallagher said he doesn't have a recommendation for the course's future.
“This isn't the first time we've had this discussion with people about trying to find some positive outcomes,” he said. “Unfortunately, the previous discussions haven't been successful from the township's perspective.”
Gallagher said the Township Board welcomes positive brainstorming from the disc golfers and community.
“It's one thing to complain about something — it's another to get involved in making it better," he said. "A petition that just says we want it back doesn't necessarily deal with the issues of why the board felt it was appropriate to take it out. But boy, a group of people that say 'we have some solutions' I think would be more likely to be able to be successful.”