Controversy over rehabilitation of Rock Creek Park golf course (includes video story)

A proposal to rehabilitate a historic public golf course in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park requires the removal of almost half of the trees in the area, which has some environmental groups and residents concerned.

Rock Creek has one of the few public golf courses in the area, but golf enthusiasts say it’s been neglected. They say four holes of the 18-hole course are unplayable. The non-profit National Links Trust, which has a 50-year lease to manage the golf course, wants to undertake its rehabilitation.

But it is proposing a move that is causing a lot of controversies.

The National Park Service owns the land. It says if there is any kind of improvement on the course, more than 1000 trees would have to be removed. 

The National Links Trust contends many of them are dead trees or driftwood anyway, but an environmental group argues differently.

Other experts estimate the golf course fix would still mean that about 700 healthy and native trees would be removed. 

We spoke to several players who shared their opinions on the redevelopment of the course.

“I feel like we can compromise this,” said Michel Balsamo. “This is a historic golf course, and I’d like to see people have the opportunity to play golf, particularly seniors and minorities,” but at the same time, I believe in not destroying all the vegetation.” 

“I think having the full 18-hole course that is accessible to the public is a terrific idea,” shared Michael Murray. “There’s always a balance between environmental concerns and the uses, and I am not an expert in these things, but I hope they will do it wisely.” 

Removing trees and biodiversity in public parks for sports is also highly controversial in Aventura, Miami. In Founder’s Park, a public area where the city removed 33 trees and has plans to develop pickleball courts, there have been protests and litigation. 

“There’s another court date in April,” said Ariel Penzer. “I think, and that’s when the judge will make his final decision if they have to restore the park or if they can keep the pickleball. So it’s definitely not over. We’re going to protest Tuesday.” 

Similarly, after a long process, Miami’s Melreese Golf Course is officially closed and under construction for Inter Miami’s Miami Freedom Park.

The development received a permit to remove 731 trees and is awaiting another to remove 227 more trees in the area.

However, this plan has so far met little resistance. 


Paloma Pimentel is a senior at FIU majoring in Digital Journalism and Communications, with a background in sociological studies. She is passionate about writing environmental and social issues stories, and is on her path to becoming an investigative journalist.  Having traveled to 20 countries already, she seeks to know more about the world and write stories about it.