Robbinsdale gem sacrificed for disc golf and chump change

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • May 10, 2009 - 11:26 AM

The morning was blue and cool Saturday. A man in his 50s came jogging down the incline from 36th Avenue and headed into the wilds of Walter J. Sochacki Community Park. He passed a man of similar age walking with a spaniel.

The man walking a dog, a Robbinsdale resident, said: "It's incredible to have this area in the middle of the city. And this is the way we like it. Quiet."

This approximated the comments made by Jonathan Stiegler, Robbinsdale's city coordinator of forestry and environmental services in 1989, when the 37-acre Sochacki Park was dedicated.

"It's very peaceful," Stiegler said. "It's very secluded for being in the middle of a metropolitan area."

Sochacki -- pronounced So-Hockey -- taught and coached in the Robbinsdale school system. He also served as mayor and an alderman. He carried the nickname "Red" and was a starter on the Gophers basketball team for three years in the early '30s. He died at 87 in 1997.

Most of the 37 acres sit west of the railroad track that runs north-south through Robbinsdale. Sochacki connects with Mary Hills Nature Area at its southern border with Golden Valley, and that adds another 14 acres of ponds, trees, brush and gulleys to serve wildlife and people searching for a sanctuary.

"It's a place I hope I can take my kids for decades to come," Stiegler said in '89. "And my grandkids."

Soon, the young ones will be warned to remain attentive so as not to get hit in the face with a Frisbee.

The city of Robbinsdale is about to defile an urban treasure in order to claim the kingly sum of $1,900. That's what was handed over when School District 281 (Robbinsdale, et al.) couldn't figure out what to do with the chump change for "lifelong outdoor recreation activities" that remained from a large grant.

Robbinsdale's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission jumped on the nineteen-hun as if it were free lobster and started looking for a "disc golf" site.

That's the name the aficionados have given to Frisbee golf -- much like American soccer weenies refer to futbol.

The proposal surfaced last summer to clear out natural areas in Sochacki to accommodate flying Frisbees. There was a public protest at an August 2008 park board meeting, and the bureaucrats went into hiding.

It was subterfuge. The plan sprung to life again this spring; it was approved at a park board meeting in late March and is ready for final passage at Tuesday night's Robbinsdale council meeting.

City workers have spent considerable time in Sochacki figuring out the clearings for the course (nine holes now, 18 eventually), so it's apparent that a pro-Frisbee majority already has been arranged in the council.

Some great humor can be found in the arguments by those who support hacking into Sochacki:

One, it's a lifetime sport. Sure, and there's a Frisbee golf circuit two blocks from my house. I'm by there daily and never have seen a participant older than 25.

Two, a two-parter: 1. Disc golf will bring visitors to Robbinsdale; and 2. A majority of the people protesting are not Robbinsdale residents. So, doesn't that lead to the conclusion that Sochacki, in its wonderful, current state, already is bringing visitors into Robbinsdale?

Three. A disc golf circuit would reduce vandalism in Sochacki Park. Right, and this is going to work even though golf in such a woodsy, unlighted setting takes place in daylight and vandalism has taken place at night?

It should be mentioned that Tom Marshall, the parks and rec director, brought in an expert -- Charlie Hutchinson -- to help select Sochacki over three other city parks as the preferred location.

Any conflict of interest here, since Hutchinson owns Gotta Go, Gotta Throw, a company that sells discs and accessories?

"That's been mentioned, but I would be careful saying that," Marshall said. "Charlie knows what's needed for a course that can be built with minimal impact to the environment and that disc golfers will want to play."

Fair enough. It wasn't about finding a site with tangled trees, underbrush and water that might cause an inordinate number of $15 Innova discs to go missing.

The politicians and bureaucrats should be proud, selling out the treasure that was dedicated 20 years ago to Red Sochacki for nineteen hundred bucks.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP.

© 2018 Star Tribune