The town and village recreation departments unveiled more than a dozen new pickleball courts at several public parks this summer, in response to a growing demand for the popular sport.
The town and village previously had outdoor tennis courts that were also lined for pickleball scattered throughout Cascade, Sand Hill and Pearl Street parks. But with only six total, there were often lengthy waits between games among the large groups of people who frequent the courts, according to Essex Parks and Recreation director Ally Vile.
Other communities have faced similar problems. In neighboring Colchester, a court shortage has prompted a group of pickleballers to start a fundraising campaign in hopes of raising enough cash to convert some tennis courts.
But with money already set aside to resurface the courts, Vile said she met with her “court captains” — local pickleball enthusiasts — to discuss how to accommodate the sport.
One of those advocates was Joyce Stannard, a “passionate about pickleball” 80-year-old who said she hoped the growth of the sport would convince the local communities to embrace it.
“Fortunately our efforts worked very well,” she said.
There’s now 14 pickleball courts spread across the three parks: six at Cascade and four at the other two. “Instead of people sitting out and having to wait a long time, it just gets more playing on the court and they can rotate through a lot better,” Vile said.
The projects cost about $20,000 per park, Vile said, with the town paying for the work at Sand Hill and Pearl Street, and the village picking up the tab at Cascade Park. Vile said it was purely a coincidence that the two departments carried out the projects in the same year.
Stannard, who picked up the sport down in Florida and went on to hold a clinic at Pearl Street alongside her husband, said she’s seen several new players join the ranks since the refurbishments.
“It’s just addictive,” she said of the sport, which has been called one of the fastest-growing in the country. Stannard had a good idea why: It’s not expensive, it’s quick to learn, it’s social and it’s “so much fun.”
“The younger generation is seeing how much fun we’re having, they’re coming on board now,” she said, adding those interested should keep an eye out for some local clinics, or swing by the new courts. “Once they learn it, they’re going to stay with it,” she said.