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Disc golfers reclaim natural area near downtown Troutdale with pop-up course

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Jason Hardin and Steve Zebrowski worked together to bring a new recreational activity to Troutdale with The Confluence Pop-up Course.A sport exploding in popularity around the globe has made its way into Troutdale — helping clean up a dangerous natural area near downtown and bringing more visitors into the community in support of small businesses.

Steve Zebrowski and Jason Hardin led a push this spring to develop The Confluence Pop-up Disc Golf Course, which is tucked away between downtown Troutdale and the Columbia Gorge Outlets, in the shadow of the historic Bissinger Company Water Tower.

"There are a lot of players in (East Multnomah County), and we wanted to give them a reason to come to Troutdale," Zebrowski said.

The idea for a Troutdale disc golf course began when Zebrowski saw a social media post by city officials looking for ideas to bolster their parks. So the disc golf enthusiast put together a proposal that he brought before Troutdale City Council.

The sticking point was finances, with a city grant needed to kickstart the course. Officials were also uncertain how popular a disc golf course would be. But Zebrowski was undeterred, and turned to his friends for help.

A crew of disc golfers descended on Troutdale with petitions in hand. They met with local businesses and residents, and reached out to East Multnomah County disc golfers tired of the long tee-times at established courses at Blue Lake Regional Park and the Lunchtime Course in downtown Portland.

"The disc golf community pulls together for stuff like this," Hardin said. "And the businesses were supportive as well."

Zebrowski returned to the council with 1,400 signatures in support of the course — and city leadership backed the idea with a 5-2 vote. They received an $8,000 grant from the city and got to work.

Perhaps the most difficult part was reclaiming the natural area, which had been taken over by homeless camps and trash. Hardin said it had become an area of town not many were comfortable going into durigng the day.

"In the beginning when we walked the area, we would pass by beer cans and needles," Hardin said. "It was not a good place to be."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Jason Hardin lines up his first throw at Troutdales Confluence Pop-Up Disc Golf Course.Volunteer crews cleaned out the camps, removed four dumpsters of trash, restored the paths, cleared bramble and brush, and made the Confluence natural area a nice place to visit. Throughout the process, the West Columbia Gorge Rotary Club was also a big help — they donated wood chips for the trail, volunteered during the cleaning, and paid for signage directing golfers to the first tee.

The 12-hole Confluence Pop-up Disc Golf Course was officially opened six weeks ago, and is free to play. Golfers can venture out from sunrise to sunset to enjoy views of the river and bluffs in a socially-distanced, fun manner.

"This is a huge growing sport, and we are excited to bring it into Troutdale," Hardin said.

The course is beginner to intermediate difficulty, with all of the baskets at par three. It is rugged with little development along the natural walkways, so if you play, wear a pair of shoes you don't mind getting muddy.

The area isn't just for players — Hardin often sees people walking along the paths during their lunch breaks or families heading out to walk their dogs. Because of the course, the natural area has been reclaimed by the community.

"The whole point of this course was to get people visiting Troutdale," Hardin said. "When the golfers finish they walk into downtown to shop, eat and get a drink."

There is an expiration date on all of this. Troutdale still eyes The Confluence site for future development into a mixed-use area. But when it all goes away, Zebrowski already has plans to move the course to a new permanent home in Troutdale.

"The city has been working with us to find a new location when the development happens," he said. "Disc golf is here to stay in Troutdale."

What is disc golf?

Disc golf is similar to the classic sport from which it takes its name.

Players use hardened plastic discs that they throw toward a target, making each new throw from where their previous disc landed. They begin in a tee area and move toward the target, which is often in the form of a metal basket. Some use different types of discs depending on the distance of the throw, similar to variants of golf clubs.

The players seem to be drawn to the relaxed vibes, opportunity to get out in nature, and the caring community that has grown around the sport. Jason Hardin said in many ways it is easy fundraising for a project like the Confluence Course, because disc golfers are quick to go out of their way for someone in need.

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