Disc golf course to replace homeless encampment near Bellis Fair

More than 2K pounds of trash removed from property; course could be ready mid-May
April 9, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
A Bellingham Disc Golf Club advertises its future course to drivers on Bakerview Road April 6. The 18-hole course will be free and open to the public at all times.
A Bellingham Disc Golf Club advertises its future course to drivers on Bakerview Road April 6. The 18-hole course will be free and open to the public at all times. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

The Whatcom Disc Golf Club is replacing a former homeless encampment with an 18-hole disc golf course on the 20-acre plot of land just across the street from Bellis Fair mall.

Baskets are set to be ordered within the next week and the club hopes to have them installed on the soon-to-be-opened course between West Bakerview Road and Bellis Fair Parkway by mid-May.

Mikkel Hong, a club board member, originally contacted the RJ Group, which owns part of the land, in early December 2022, and the club has been working on the course since mid-January.

Hong had driven by the land for years, he said, and finally decided to inquire about it.

The club has entered a “no-cost lease” with the owners — RJ Group, 4D Properties and Mark Schintaffer of District Brewing — so the club won’t have to pay anything for the land use, and it will be free and open to the public at all times.

photo A preliminary course map illustrates how the course might play when complete. (Image courtesy of Mikkel Hong)

“I didn’t think they were going to say yes, but they did and they were very eager to work with us,” Hong said. “We’ve just tried to match that intensity.”

The privately owned, undeveloped site was previously home to more than 2,000 pounds of trash, including needles, leftover food and goods packaging, clothing hangers and other types of litter.

The club had nearly 40 volunteers over two days come to help clean up the property on March 18 and 25. The course will be temporary, but the club projects it to be open for at least two years before any new plans for the property are brought forward, Hong said.

Bill Rink, Whatcom Disc Golf Club president, said part of the landowners’ willingness to agree to the course was to create a consistent presence of people that may drive away homeless activity. At the time of the clean-up, nobody was living on the property, Rink said.

“People come and go,” Rink added. “We didn’t kick anybody out of there.”

Hong acknowledged there is a concern about that activity taking place on the property even after the course is officially open, but the club is hoping disc golfers’ presence will eliminate it. 

photo Volunteers removed more than 2,000 pounds of trash from the 20-acre plot of land over two days of clean up. (Photo courtesy of Mikkel Hong)

“There’s obviously concern, and it’s a potential issue, but I think that people generally don’t want to camp where [other] people are,” Hong said.

Much of the funds needed to help set up the course — including the estimated $10,000 purchase of 19 baskets — was raised via a FundRazr campaign that has accrued $16,366 of donations as of April 8.

The club will be able to move those baskets to another location once it is no longer able to use the land.

“The baskets are for the community and for the people to come play and use,” Rink said. “We will make sure they’re in the ground somewhere.”

Rink added that an 18-hole course is best fit onto a minimum of 40 acres, but they are optimistic about it playing like a true intermediate course that can accommodate all skill levels.

“We’re kind of just using it a little bit creatively,” Hong said. “It was, as I suspected, pretty ideal terrain for disc golf. We’re not having to cut trees, mainly just cutting blackberries — that’s going to be the bane of our existence.”

Cornwall Park, a nine-hole course, and the Mossy Roc Disc Golf Course are the two primary courses in Bellingham, and only the former is open to the public at all times. It has become overcrowded, Rink said, so this course aims to fill that void.

“Bellingham needs an 18-hole version of Cornwall Park,” Rink said. “That’s kind of what this is.”

photo Tone poles, an alternate type of disc golf target, have been set up across the property for course testing and tweaking. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

The club has also made parking and bathroom-use arrangements with Bellis Fair, as patrons will be able to park in the lot area closest to Kohl’s. 

Tee pads are currently being installed and some tone poles — an alternative disc golf target — have temporarily been set up to allow for course testing.

Hong is excited about what the course might bring to the area and is proud of the progress they have made so far.

“I think it's just a really great example of people who love doing something great for their own community,” Hong said.

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