Play by the rules of Oak Hills Golf Course

Oak Hills Park Golf Course.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

On the hyperlocal social networking service “Next Door West Norwalk,” Bob Fosina wrote, “Sledding in Oak Hills? No more. Our society has fallen to a new low, especially here in Norwalk, compliments most recently of the Superintendent of the Oak Hills Golf Course. I thought it was weird when there were only two other cars there when in the last 20 years days like yesterday would have 30 cars in the parking lot. A rite of passage has always been tobogganing on the local golf course. Saturday afternoon I was aggressively approached, told the kids and I was in violation, the cops were called and I would be ticketed.

Josh Molaver, following Rosina’s comments on Next Door West Norwalk, wrote that after reading Rosina’s post, he contacted the authority and received this response: “Oak Hills Park is an urban park, but NO Taxpayer money is not going to maintain the parking lot. When the park is closed, as was the case last weekend, no one is supposed to be on the property and sledding is still prohibited. We understand the frustration , but liability is the main issue and with the litigious society we live in we can’t risk a lawsuit, God forbid someone has been hurt As a parent I love to see the kids sledding, but we must protect the best interests of the park as a whole.My apologies for the inconvenience, and again, I understand your frustration.

It is not true that “NO taxpayer money” goes into maintaining the golf course. Indeed, while preventing non-golfing Norwalk residents from enjoying a variety of park activities, the golf course has required millions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized loans and grants to survive. Meanwhile, the authority stripped the park of trees and dumped thousands of pounds of harmful chemicals on its grounds.

What is going on? Oak Hills was meant to be a public park where people could go. Instead, with one caveat, it was handed over to the Oak Hills Authority, to serve the interests of golfers only. The caveat was that the authority ensured that golfers would cover the cost of maintaining the golf course so that it did not cost taxpayers a penny.

As another Norwalk resident summed up the issue in a response to Fosina’s post, the park “is a gem of a resource that should provide greater access to all citizens for a variety of activities.” When it comes to sledding, signs and demarcated areas should be able to address liability issues.

Instead, “Oak Hills is run like an old boys club (both D and R). The problem goes back a decade, probably even more. Club runs out of money, apologizes to city for being independent, city gets tough but subsidizes park, park upspends, says all is well, then returns hat in hand to city and park the cycle begins again. This cycle has happened many times.

Golf courses have hazards – sand traps, water – this golf course is a moral hazard to the taxpayers of Norwalk… If you want to plug a leak in your taxpayers’ money, keep an eye on the Park Authority – look into their finances, attend their meetings, attend when they come to the Board of Assessment and Taxation, it’s a resource that all of Norwalk subsidizes.

Paul Cantor is a resident of Norwalk.

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