Wrightsville Beach’s pickleball community wants additional space to play, forcing municipal authorities to devise a six-figure funding scheme to meet the sport’s burgeoning fan base.
The town’s board of aldermen meeting on Aug. 12 will include a discussion of potential short-and long-term solutions to appease both the pickleball lobby and tennis players, who now share the tennis courts at Wrightsville Beach Park.
Three of the park’s four courts have already been marked with pickleball lines and are reserved exclusively for pickleball players on Tuesday and Thursday mornings as part of the town’s “open play pickleball program,” according to the meeting agenda.
The mornings of Wednesday and Friday are allocated for tennis players. On Saturday morning, the groups divided the four courts into four halves.
According to the agenda, “because pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports, many pickleball players use the courts outside of the open play program hours, generating conflict with tennis players wishing to use the courts.” “The courts may be used for either activity outside of the reserved hours.”
According to the town, open play participation has climbed from ten pickleball players in 2017 to 125 now.
The park’s four tennis courts are slated to be resurfaced “before the end of August.” The short-term answer to pickleball’s exponential expansion has been spearheaded by pickleball enthusiast Jim Chaffins, who the agenda describes as “our extremely enthusiastic Pickleball Open Play volunteer.”
Chaffins has already raised more than enough money privately to convert one of the park’s tennis courts into four permanent pickleball courts, a project estimated to cost $6,593 and which could begin once all the existing courts are resurfaced this month. Chaffins could not be reached for comment immediately.
Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee members voted 4-1 in support of converting one tennis court into a permanent four-court pickleball center.
“It’s a massive, rapidly expanding sport that has been for a long time,” recreation program administrator Katie Ryan explained. “There are just not enough courts in the neighborhood — or anyplace else, for that matter — to satisfy everyone who wishes to play.”
That is the quick fix. The associated long-term proposal is more expensive.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee’s second recommendation to town leaders next week will be to consider funding for six new dedicated pickleball courts — as well as lighting for the new courts and existing tennis courts. This path was unanimously approved by the committee. Both plans will be addressed by the board of aldermen, which has the funding authority, on Aug. 12.
The six additional pickleball courts would be adjacent to the park’s existing courts and would cost $165,000 to construct. An additional $258,000 would be required to light all of the courts.
The goal is to secure a grant from the parks and recreation trust fund, which may cover half of the project’s $423,000 cost. According to the agenda, “survey, site plan, stormwater permits, landscaping, and modifications to the car access pathway are not included in the cost estimate.”
Utility lines and an oak tree obstruct the building on the site designated for the new courts.
According to the agenda, “the Wrightsville Beach Foundation and many residents have indicated their willingness to assist with funding the project, but no dollar numbers have been confirmed.”
And if the six new pickleball courts materialize, the court intended to be turned into four pickleball courts will revert to its original tennis court configuration.
The Chaffins launched an online petition to persuade local officials to fund the six new courts. At the time of publication, it had 446 signatories. A petition to “Save Wrightsville Beach Tennis Courts” is also circulating, with 143 signatures at the time of publication, protesting the conversion of an existing tennis court to a pickleball court.