Sunday, September 24, 2023

Pickleball lobby has a plan for Wrightsville Beach Park: More courts

Pickleball is rocketing in popularity, and the players of Wrightsville Beach are pushing for upgrades. (Port City Daily/File)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH –– The pickleball contingent of Wrightsville Beach wants more space to play, prompting town officials to game plan a six-figure funding strategy to accommodate the growing faction of those who love the sport. 

Included on the agenda for the town’s Aug. 12 board of aldermen meeting is discussion of potential short- and long-term solutions to satisfy the pickleball lobby and the tennis players, both of which currently share the tennis courts at Wrightsville Beach Park. 

Three of the park’s four courts already have pickleball lines drawn on them, and are exclusively reserved for the pickleballers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings as part of the town’s “open play pickleball program,” according to the meeting agenda. 

Wednesday and Friday mornings are reserved for the tennis players. On Saturday mornings, the groups split the four courts. 

“With pickleball being one of the fastest growing sports, many pickleball players use the courts outside of the open play program hours causing tension among tennis players wanting to use the courts,” according to the agenda. “Outside of those reserved hours the courts may be used for either activity.” 

According to the town, participation in the open play program has increased from 10 pickleball players in 2017 to 125 players currently. 

The park’s four courts are scheduled to be resurfaced, “which should occur by the end of August.” The short-term solution to pickleball’s ballooning growth has been spearheaded by pickleball aficionado Jim Chaffins, “our very dedicated Pickleball Open Play volunteer,” according to the agenda. 

Chaffins has already privately raised more than enough money to convert one of the park’s tennis courts into four permanent pickleball courts, an endeavor said to cost $6,593 that could move forward when all existing courts are resurfaced this month. Chaffins could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee voted 4-1 in favor of the plan to convert one tennis court into a permanent four-court pickleball hub. 

“It’s just a huge rapidly growing sport and has been for a while,” said recreation program supervisor Katie Ryan. “There’s just not enough courts in the area — anywhere really — to accommodate everybody that wants to play.”

That’s the short fix. The accompanying long-term proposal is more costly. 

The second half of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee’s recommendation to town leaders next week will be to consider funding six new dedicated pickleball courts — and lighting for the new courts and existing tennis courts. The committee unanimously upvoted this path. Both proposals will be discussed Aug. 12 by the board of aldermen, which has funding power.

The six new pickleball courts would be located adjacent to the other courts in the park and would cost $165,000 to build. Lighting all the courts would cost another $258,000. 

The goal is to seek a parks and recreation trust fund grant, which could fund half of the total $423,000 project. “Survey, site plan, storm water permits, landscaping and improvements to the walkway for vehicle access are not included in the cost estimate,” according to the agenda.

In the site identified for the new courts, utility lines and an oak tree pose as obstacles for construction.

“The Wrightsville Beach Foundation and several residents have said that they would help fund the project though no monetary amounts have been confirmed,” according to the agenda. 

And if the six new pickleball courts were to manifest, the court planned to be converted into four pickleball courts would once again become a tennis court. 

Chaffins started an online petition to convince town leaders to spring for the six new courts. It had 446 signatures at the time of publication. A petition to “Save Wrightsville Beach Tennis Courts,” opposing the conversion of an existing tennis court to one for pickleball, is also circulating, with 143 signatures at time of publication.

A rendering of the short-term fix that would alleviate tension between pickleballers and tennis players at Wrightsville Beach Park: converting one tennis court into dedicated pickleball courts. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Wrightsville Beach)
A rendering of the long-term solution for pickleball’s rapid popularity explosion: adding six new dedicated courts next to the existing tennis courts. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Wrightsville Beach)

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