Community collaboration was outstanding

Published 8:59 am Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tim Engstrom, Pothole Prairie

It was a weekend full of rewarding work, but it was seven months in the making. In the end, the community got a new recreational facility. You probably read the story about the installation of the Riverland Community Disc Golf Course on the Oct. 18 sports page.

The course stands as testament to the ability of Albert Lea to collaborate and as an example to other organizations that want facilities in parks or open spaces.

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The Flying Lea Disc Golf Club was founded in April 2009. Its goal for the first year was to exist. It ran a handicap league, a random doubles league, an open tournament and a league championship.

So for our second year, we sought a higher goal. At a meeting at Jake’s Pizza in March, a handful of club members and primary sponsor Nancy VanderWaerdt discussed ideas. I proposed we make replacing the baskets our goal and using the old baskets for a new course at Riverland Community College.

Many players didn’t like the old baskets at Bancroft Bay Park because they had sharp edges that chipped discs, were in rough shape and didn’t hold discs well. The discs would roll out beneath the rim. The golfers play in other cities and envied the baskets there.

Attendance at Bancroft Bay was generally good, but, still, we felt making an easier course at the college would get even more players into the sport. That way, they can build their disc-throwing skills on the Riverland course, then play the Bancroft Bay course. And the college and high school could use it as another physical education facility.

Riverland and Albert Lea High School share a campus, so we contacted the college president and the school district superintendent and told them about the idea. We said it might take two years, and they were receptive. We began fundraising.

First, we increased the price to participate in our leagues by a dollar, giving that dollar to the goal. We also purchased prize incentives for closest-to-pin contests during league play and for a season-long points race. The CTP contest required $2 to play and always was good revenue, and the points race made attendance an incentive.

We had about 80 players join our club this season, compared to about 40 last year. Each player paid $5 to join. That made us money, too.

We also asked for business sponsorships at low prices. Several businesses purchased our affordable $165 sponsorships, and in return we gave them advertising in the kiosk, on our website (, on our scorecards and by word of mouth. And they will be on our upcoming T-shirts.

Between sponsors and our dimes and dollars, we raised $2,500, after expenses.

Then came the next level of collaboration — be on the lookout for grant funding. Fortunately, one of our members, Jeshua Erickson, spoke with Ellen Kehr, the Statewide Health Improvement Program coordinator for Freeborn County. Together, they saw the Riverland course as a great possibility for getting people moving in Albert Lea.

We had meetings and swapped many e-mails. As the summer progressed, the mental picture of “we” grew from that handful of players at Jake’s Pizza to all players, all sponsors, Kehr, college staff, school staff and city staff. The course was primarily on college property but two holes were on school property, and it would be part of the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department. Member Art Schorn, who also won our club championship this year, led the way when it came to designing the new course.

Finally, word came from the state that we got a $5,000 grant. Yay! And we received another $3,000 to pay for signs (which will be installed in the spring, by the way). Yay!

Including taxes, the new baskets for Bancroft Bay Park cost $6,100, and our players were more than willing to do the installation work. Kehr said the SHIP grant officials were impressed that the disc golfers had raised $2,500 on their own. The fundraising showed momentum, the same momentum that had impressed college, school and city officials. And unlike so many projects, such as a city sidewalk merely on city property, the Riverland Community Disc Golf Course represents the collaboration of so many local entities, making it stand out among SHIP projects.

Indeed, I couldn’t agree more.

This level of collaboration isn’t something seen in many communities. It’s a feather in Albert Lea’s cap. At times, we complain about how this part of government isn’t working with that part of government. But the disc golf course shows levels of governments actually do come together and accomplish good things for the people more than we might give them credit for.

As for other groups who want facilities, here is my suggestion: In these tight times, raise the money yourself and be willing to do the installation labor yourself, then come asking for assistance, not the other way around.

The collaboration continued on installation day: locks were sold at cost and the rented equipment came at no charge. People couldn’t stop telling us they loved the sport.

What an amazing, giving community we live in!

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every other Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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