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Voorhees Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course Ordered Removed By NJDEP

Voorhees Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course Ordered Removed By NJDEP
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Stafford Woods in Voorhees is home to an internationally recognized disc golf course… and the NJDEP recently ordered the disc golf course removed after they determined the course is not an allowed use on the property.

NJDEP is requiring Voorhees Twp to remove all added structures related to the disc golf course, and return the property back to its full natural state.

Organizers of the Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course are asking supporters to sign an online petition, and to reach out to a select group of local politicians (all links at bottom of the article)

In 2004 the property was acquired by Voorhees Twp and the State of New Jersey for protection from development and to preserve water quality, via the State’s Green Acres program with the assistance of other conservation entities.

The disc golf course has operated as a popular and successful recreational activity on the site for over 11 years.

The reasoning behind the recent order to remove the disc golf aspects is, part of the financing for the land acquisition in 2004 was done through the State’s EIFP financing program, which has certain restrictions regarding the recreational uses that are allowed on the property.

The Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course was ordered by the NJDEP to be removed, citing the use was not allowed on the Green Acres supported property

Organizers and thousands of disc golfers are understandably upset about this news saying that multiple times the property had been inspected by the DEP staffers over the years (2014, 2017, 2020), and it was never previously identified as a problem.

The disc golf supporters believe there is an issue with the determination of passive vs active recreation.

As an example, commentary at their petition states that to the NJDEP “Group picnics are considered active recreation, while cross country skiing is considered passive recreation”. This is presented to show that some aspects of the definition do not fit what one would expect and can be ambiguous.

Supporters also say that in other States, disc golf has been defined as a passive use of lands.

A disc golf “hole” at Stafford Woods is this metal pole with catch basket. The logs in the upper left are the start of the next hole.

Stafford Woods Disc Golf is located off of Evesham Rd just a few 100 feet down from the ShopRite (other side of road).

The disc golf course was added to the still heavily wooded property back in 2011 by a group of volunteers, who over a decade later still dedicate countless hours to maintain, clean and protect the natural wooded environment.

So keep that in mind, when I tell you that according to the leading disc golf website… of 14,000 courses tracked by the website, Stafford Woods is ranked 39th internationally! And if you look at the free-to-play courses… they are ranked 12th IN THE WORLD!

The course is widely used by local disc golf enthusiasts as well as others from around the world who are interested in trying this free top-ranked course (and likely stopping at local businesses during their time in the area!)

Participation figures provided by Stafford Woods volunteers (based on stats) show that in recent years the course is averaging over 90,000 rounds of disc golf a year!

Stafford Woods Disc Golf course is ranked 39 in the world, and 12th in Free-To-Play courses.

And soon it will be gone.

That being said, the disc golf community and volunteers have not given up hope.

They are hoping that with enough publicity and community support, the Stafford Woods Disc Golf course can be saved.

They are asking supporters to sign the online petition, as well as reach out to local lawmakers (email list at bottom) to make them aware that people would like to see the Stafford Woods Disc Golf course remain.

Currently the petition has almost 15,000 signatures! Likely some of that new attention is from the Philadelphia Inquirer article which was published last night.

Keep Scrolling and Reading for more

Located off of Evesham Rd just a few 100 feet from Shoprite, the Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course was ordered by the NJDEP to be removed.

Stafford Woods Disc Golf – Volunteers Supporting the Outdoors

I stopped by yesterday afternoon at the Stafford Woods disc golf course and caught up with several of the course leaders including Adam Harris, who is credited as the key person who started the course creation efforts 12 years ago, and continues to help lead the daily course management.

Back in 2011, Adam was the person who first discussed the idea with Voorhees Twp officials about adding a disc golf course in town… which after reviewing other sites in town, the perfect home was found in Stafford Woods.

Adam and other volunteers I spoke with described the poor conditions of the woods back in 2011.

Prior farm uses and other persons had put considerable debris in the woods. Barbed wire left from decades of livestock and farming was intertwined throughout the wooded property. It was a significant clean-up effort to get the woods ready for any type of resident use.

The first disc golf hole opened the following year in 2012.

A natural wood trail setting at Stafford Woods disc golf

Today the woods and golf course are well maintained and protected, still via volunteer efforts.

Yesterday I spent some time walking the trails and disc golf “holes” and was surprised with how well the course fits into the natural growth of the woods.

According to Adam Harris, Voorhees Township is still fully supportive of the disc golf course and sees no problems with it… but the township’s hands are tied due to the ruling by the NJDEP.

On Friday the Voorhees Township website added a new webpage online solely to explain the current situation at the Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course… seemingly in response to the township offices being flooded with phone calls.

This decision was not made by Voorhees Township or anyone affiliated with Voorhees Township and was decided solely by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In the coming weeks, we will be working on the proper closure procedures, including the removal of course equipment and signage. Restoration and maintenance of the area will follow shortly after. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for understanding.

For questions or comments, please contact the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Voorhees Township Website, Regarding Stafford Woods Disc Golf

So the official status is the decision has been made by the NJDEP to have the disc golf course closed, and Voorhees is prepared to begin the process of removing any updates to the wooded property which were done in support of that course.

The woods at the top of the photo are the core Stafford Woods Disc Golf course, but it does extend to the open field. In the upper left are grape vines growing as part of the adjacent Saddle Hill winery.

NJDEP Ruling On Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course

Volunteers associated with the Stafford Woods Disc golf course utilized New Jersey’s Open Government laws to acquire a variety of documents related to the decision, some of which were made available to 42Freeway.

As an example of the DEP’s acceptance of the course over the years, a letter from July 17th 2020 from a State Compliance inspector says:

On Monday July 13th 2020 green acres compliance inspections were completed…  at the time of the inspections, It’s an open space areas were found to be clean, well maintained and in compliance with green acres rules and regulations.

NJDEP Inspector comments related to the Stafford Farms preserved properties

The letter does call out one specific item of concern with the Stafford Farms properties, but that was unrelated to the disc golf course as it called out questions regarding pre-existing residences that were on the property.

The point that supporters are making is an inspector was there just three years ago, called out an unrelated item of concern with the Stafford Farms open space property… yet made no mention of the disc golf course as being a problem, and added a complimentary review of the condition of the properties.

I learn something new every day! There are different discs for different types and distances of shots you want to take… just like traditional golf. Stafford Woods.

So what changed?

In January of this year a complaint/question was filed from an area property owner asking questions about the disc golf course at the Stafford Woods property… asking if the disc golf course was an approved use.

While the name was redacted in the documents, details of the correspondence linked the person inquiring about the legalities of the disc golf course…  to the owner of an area property.

The trails and disc golf course at Stafford Woods, fits into the natural wood setting.

The reality is, despite where the complaint started… the issue is with the NJDEP’s determination.

Adam Harris of the Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course also made it clear he wants folks associated with the course to focus on the the NJDEP ruling, and forget about where the original complaint stemmed from.

UPDATE: When I originally posted this I chose not to include details of who people were saying made the initial complaint, without my own confirmation. Well, in another excellent article at… Bill Green of the Saddle Hill Winery property is identified as that person, and Mr Green gives significant commentary regarding the issue. Read that here (after you finish reading my article!)

A trail divides the Stafford Woods Disc Golf property from the adjacent Stafford Farm where Saddle Hill Winery is being developed.

And things have moved very fast this year since that initial January complaint.

In a matter of months since receiving the complaint, the NJDEP visited the course again, made a decision that the course was not a compliant use, and directed Voorhees Township to remove all aspects of the disc golf course and improvements.

Following the NJDEP required timelines for a response, Voorhees Township has prepared a full action plan to remove the disc golf course and any improvements made to the land.

As part of the NJDEP determination, property improvements at Stafford Woods such as this pervious paver “tee” area and signage, will need to be removed by Voorhees Township.

These action items include the removal of pavers from golf tee locations, timber landscaping, landscape seating walls, disc golf basket holes and restoring of topsoil… as well as planting approximately 90 native trees.

At the Voorhees Township website the notice also states:

In the coming weeks, we will be working on the proper closure procedures, including the removal of course equipment and signage. Restoration and maintenance of the area will follow shortly after. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for understanding.

Voorhees Township Website, Regarding Stafford Woods Disc Golf

Passive vs Active & EIFP Financing program. Let’s Talk

To the disc golf community, a key aspect of the NJDEP decision is “what activities constitute passive vs active recreation”?

The EIFP financing program states that land preservation acquisitions that it funds can only support passive recreation aspects.

My mind has moved a step further… I like to anticipate reader questions and I think some would’ve called out “What is the EIFP? Who runs it? What is it charter?”

So I did what I do best… spent hours searching the internet looking for a very descriptive NJDEP program definition of the two recreation types and what the EIFP program is about.

Online literature at the New Jersey State website does offer several bullets regarding what activities fit into passive, which includes things such as walking, hiking, fishing, and even horseback riding.

Active recreation is defined as activities that are more organized and typically have a court or field associated with them such as basketball, swimming, baseball or traditional golf.

Disc Golf is not called out specifically by the NJDEP, and the Stafford Woods organizers state that in 2011, disc golf was considered a allowable activity for the property.

But it still leaves some ambiguity in the definitions.

A small pond at the Stafford Woods property in Voorhees was used many decades ago for livestock.

So what is the EIFP?

EIFP financing is now called The New Jersey Water Bank, which is a partnership between the NJDEP and the Environmental Infrastructure Trust. It was created to provide low cost financing for the design, construction, and implementation of projects that help protect and improve water quality, and help ensure safe and adequate drinking water.

I literally copied that definition from the NJDEP Water Bank website!

The EIFP acronym stands for “Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program”, and a core goal of the program is to fund the expensive costs of developing water quality infrastructure in New Jersey such as sewer system upgrades, water treatment plants and new water towers.

In the mix of allowed projects, open land preservation is offered in the financing program with the idea that by protecting land in an undeveloped state, the DEP is protecting our water supply. Keeping land undeveloped allows natural water sources to continue to flourish.

My point with the charter of the NJ Water Bank and the EIFP finance program is that it’s to protect and improve our water supply. On it’s own, simply preserving land from development is not enough… it’s more about “if we help you preserve this land with our financing programs, how does it preserve water in New Jersey”

In fact signage at the Stafford Woods site clearly states “a portion of this site is permanently dedicated for open space purposes to help protect and maintain water quality”

Green Acres signage at Stafford Woods. The blue sign adds that a portion of the land was preserved to help protect and maintain water quality.

So to tie my research together on this:

  • the EIFP/Water Bank program is focused on water preservation in the state:  To help protect and improve water quality, and help ensure safe and adequate drinking water.
  • As part of that they allow the financing program to be utilized to acquire lands so that they will not be developed on, as long as they are determined to preserve water quality aspects in the State.
  • Similarly the State wants to make sure that if they assist a town with purchasing lands to be preserved from development… that the town doesn’t turn around and develop the land with buildings and other environmentally impactful aspects; a swimming pool, baseball stadium or even just significantly adjusting the natural landscape as would be the case with building a traditional golf course.

For me that adds up to, the goal of acquiring lands via EIFP is not really to preserve land as “passive” uses. I feel that was a definition of convenience to say “don’t build things that will mess with water quality and conservation”

The goal of the EIFP for land preservation is to preserve the natural water sources of the state, by protecting from development.

Which then has me wondering…  does adding 18 golf disc baskets on a metal pole, and small pervious paver tee areas within the wooded property… impact the original charter of the New Jersey Water Bank and the EIFP program regarding maintaining water quality?

A disc golf hole at Stafford Woods, which is a single pole in the ground, with attached metal basket.

Consider that hiking and horseback riding trails are 100% listed as allowable “passive” recreations.

So if folks take an existing hiking trail in any of the New Jersey Parks and put a pole with a metal basket on one end, it now becomes “active”… and everything has to be removed and restored back?

This is just me thinking aloud.

Admittedly there are additional features that were developed at the Stafford Woods Disc Golf course over the last 12 years such as a few seating walls, and erosion protection improvements.

But it all seems like things that could be discussed and negotiated.

I get that it appears I am stepping outside of my normal writing style and leaning towards an opinion… but it does fit my concerns from day one of starting this website that the government works for the people, and communication at the local and State level is severely lacking in these modern times.

So why after 12 years is this decision appear to be “rushed”?

Why cant representatives from NJDEP, Voorhees, Stafford Woods Disc Golf, and a few local legislators… talk this out? Or maybe it just needs the backing of State politicians to work their channels in the State house, to come to a resolution?

Isn’t that what the 14th Amendment US Constitution prescribes… US States need to provide due process to it’s citizens.

In closing, it seems no one has really had a problem with the course over 12 years of operating.

And remaining a disc golf course still allows the core charters of Green Acres and the Water Bank to be fully achieved (water quality), as well as…

… the land could still be maintained as woods and protected from development. Enjoyed by thousands of New Jersey residents as protected open space via the disc golf course. It gets people “off the computer” and outside enjoying our beautiful New Jersey environments. And it’s protected and maintained.

Organizers are asking that you review the petition linked below, and consider email emailing local politicians.

Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course
Evesham Road
Voorhees NJ

Facebook: South Jersey Disc Golf Petition

Legislator emails (provided by Stafford Woods Disc Golf)