Royal Lane Park adding disc golf, more

Feb. 17—As the Clinton Recreation and Parks Department continues working to bring to fruition their master plan laid out back in 2021, projects at Royal Lane Park are very much underway, including the installation of a new disc golf course, alterations and expansion to the park's nature trails and efforts to see construction on the pickleball courts resume as soon as possible.

The 2021 plan was broken down into multiple phases and went to great lengths to address the public's response regarding what they'd like to see out of the parks moving forward. In addition to the 2021 master plan for parks as a whole, a Royal Lane Park-specific master plan had previously been created in 2014, which included the intention to add disc golf facilities and expand walking and fitness trails.

Now, years later, boxes are being ticked on those projects at Royal Lane Park.

City of Clinton officials have been working with the disc golf company Innova, and describing the company's role in the process, Clinton Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Allen explained, "They put together the design for it. Then, they actually came out last Wednesday and Thursday (Feb. 7-8) to flag the layout of the course. The designing phase is actually the longest part of the process."

"There are basically two legs to the course. It's 18 holes, so you have the front nine and the back nine, like golf," Allen elaborated, pointing out the versatility of the course as an excellent option for families and competitors alike given that, as he said, "Nine of those holes will be for beginners, to some extent. Then the other nine are a little bit more challenging."

Having the layout in place informs the department on what needs to be cleared. He specified what needs to be taken out to install the course components.

"It's mostly little underbrush, nothing big at all," said Allen. "The way they planned it out, they were trying to take out as little as possible. So, they have the 18 holes they've plotted out, and Public Works is now working on it."

However, the process of clearing out the necessary brush for the nets and tee boxes that need to be installed on the course is not entirely straightforward, for a few reasons.

"A lot of that process depends on the weather and other construction in that area of the park," he said. "It goes back to a creek. So, there's that lower portion, and if it's too wet, you're not going to be able to get machinery back there and take care of what needs to be done. Right now, that part is actually on hold."

But they can still work on the course in some capacity.

"The upper part, they can work on some of that because it's a little bit drier, and they can get to it without mucking things up — that's what they're doing at this point," said Allen.

The next part of the process, once the brush is all removed, is getting back in touch with the disc golf company so they can return and take pictures and map out the course in great detail. "They do that so they can make a map of it, and we can put it on the website so people can see how long a hole is or where the fairway goes. That way, they can also make a sort of scorecard so that players can get that detailed information."

Allen was unable to give an estimated completion date because of some of the construction going on elsewhere in the park with a gas line, as well as the finicky nature of the weather and the process of clearing out brush in the areas that are more difficult to access. This is also because, as Allen explained, "once we're ready, it also really gets back to their availability."

Moving to the matter of the trails, Allen said, "We're looking to reroute the Nature Trail and to kind of go along the stream at the back portion of the property because that will run adjacent and kind of out of the way." In this context, having the trail a bit more "out of the way" isn't meant to have a negative connotation.

"There'll be enough buffer there that it will kind of stay away from the disc golf," Allen specified. "So, they'll be safer, but also still get that nice view of the creek and everything on the backside of that property."

"The other thing with the Nature Trail is that Piedmont Natural Gas has cleared some areas where the gas line's going," he added, but that isn't all bad for project progress. Allen explained, "It did affect a little bit of a trail to where it was. But it works out in the end because we would have to move that anyways, because of trying to navigate safely through the disc golf."

Having pickleball courts constructed was an addition to the 2021 plans, and then the Royal Lane Park Tennis Court Project was given the stamp of approval by the Clinton City Council back in September 2022. At that time, the courts were estimated to be up and running for use in April 2023.

Things have not exactly gone as planned with adding new tennis courts to Clinton. Rains have revealed the issue of puddles is prominent and easily visible. A city budget-related "Projects Update," dated Oct. 30, 2023, stated, "Construction has progressed with the installation of fencing and surface leveling to address minor puddling of water."

In that October update report, a caveat specified, "To date, one progress payment has been made," and continued, "Further payments will be withheld pending satisfactory completion of the project, especially the correction of the puddling water issue."

The work on the courts that has been completed so far certainly isn't satisfactory in the eyes of the city, and a company that was brought in to survey the courts concurred with that opinion. The decision was made that it would be necessary to complete a 'core sample,' according to Clinton City Manager J.P. Duncan.

He explained, "The 'core sample' is a way to determine what's still usable," referring to the layers of concrete that have already been laid. As of now, a bit of a waiting game is taking place. "Once we're able to get the sample done and we have the results, we'll have a plan to move forward," Duncan noted.

It's been a roadblock-ridden path as the city has worked on adding multi-use courts to Clinton at Royal Lane Park that will be able to accommodate tennis and pickleball. However, the courts are still coming to Clinton, with some extra anticipation to make it all the more exciting when they do arrive.

"It's certainly not going as quickly as I would like, but we're working through it, and the wheels are slowly turning."

When City of Clinton leaders carried out a community needs assessment in the process of developing the master plan, the results provided the department with a good picture of what types of projects should be put on the agenda. Citizens were presented with various programs and amenities to weigh their opinions on the makeup of the department's offerings, both in terms of park facilities and the programs offered.

From that information, they gleaned that the general community consensus was that projects, nature trails and facilities for sporting options like disc golf and pickleball or tennis, were among the very top of the list of amenities and facilities that the people of Clinton desire.

According to the numbers, 72% of the assessment respondents answered that they would like to participate in more greenway walks. Even more substantial was the 87% of those who said they'd like to participate in more sports like disc golf, which combines nature and sport, and especially the global phenomenon of pickleball. There were 52% who felt that there weren't enough courts for tennis and pickleball.