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‘Pickleball is a party’: Boise weighs back and forth on paddle sports as city seeks tennis/pickleball ‘balance’

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Boise’s enthusiasm for pickleball wasn’t enough to convince the Parks and Recreation Commission to completely remove tennis from Eagle Rock Park. 

On Thursday afternoon, the commission heard three and a half hours of testimony on the options it was considering to meet more demand for pickleball courts on Boise’s east side. The sport is played on a court smaller than tennis and uses wooden paddles and a ball similar to a Wiffle ball. It has exploded in popularity in recent years due to how easy it is to learn and the low-impact nature of the game, making it playable for all ages and fitness levels. 

Boise’s Parks and Recreation staff identified the tennis courts at Eagle Rock Park near the Old Penitentiary as an ideal spot to consider converting tennis courts to pickleball courts to meet demand due to anecdotal evidence that the courts were underutilized and the courts’ relative distance from nearby homes. At other neighborhood parks with pickleball locations, nearby neighbors have reported noise concerns due to the sound of plastic balls hitting wooden rackets. 

Compromise wins the day

The Parks and Recreation Commission had three options to select from including keeping the two tennis courts and “bring your own net” pickleball set up, converting both tennis courts into six pickleball courts and a hybrid option with two new pickleball courts and keeping one remaining tennis court. Of these options, the commissioners unanimously decided to go with the compromise. 

A PowerPoint slide showing two options for pickleball at Eagle Rock Park. Courtesy: City of Boise

All of the commissioners praised the sport of pickleball and what it’s bringing to the community, but they said after hearing from the tennis community they did not want to completely remove an entire amenity from a walkable neighborhood park. A particular concern was how it would impact access to youth who are playing sports and are reliant on parents to drive them to practices unless they can walk to a nearby tennis court to play on. 

“My concern here is I want to make sure we are balancing the uses,” Commission Chairman Preston Carter said. “Certainly the creation of new pickleball courts is a good thing, but we see today that these tennis courts are being used and I hesitate to fully displace a user group in favor of another.”

Cost is a factor for expanding pickleball access. Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said it costs roughly $200,000 to build each new court from scratch and converting tennis courts to pickleball costs less than $10,000.

Want to play pickleball? Bring a chair

Pickleball is a hot commodity these days. 

As the sport has grown in popularity, the city’s supply of pickleball courts has not kept up with demand. Players told commissioners countless stories on Thursday of having to arrive before 8 a.m. in order to get a spot in line to play at one of Boise’s parks with wait times of more than twenty minutes or more for each game.

In total, Boise has 21 full-service pickleball courts and 20 “bring your own net” style pickleball courts available at tennis courts around the city.

By comparison, there are 127 tennis courts between Boise Parks and Recreation and Boise Independent School District properties scattered across the city. 

There are pickleball courts available at Manitou Park and Willow Lane Park, as well as a new 12-court complex at Hobble Creek Park in West Boise. There are plans for another dozen pickleball courts at the proposed Alta Harris Park near Harris Ranch, but that project is contingent on the city accruing $4.2 million in impact fees to pay for a partial build-out of the park. 

The rest of the amenities, including the pickleball courts, are currently slated to be paid for by the Harris Ranch Community Infrastructure District, but there is currently a lawsuit pending against the district right now. 

“We don’t have an update on Alta Harris,” Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway told BoiseDev. “There is a lawsuit from the members of the neighborhood on the CID and Alta Harris is put on hold until those details are worked out on the CID and then we would be back to the table with the developer to discuss how the Alta Harris would move forward.”

Pickleball players flooded public hearing

The vast majority of the testimony at Thursday’s public hearing came from pickleball players hoping for six more courts at Eagle Rock Park. 

Players that testified, who were largely seniors, told the Parks and Recreation Commission about how the sport was their favorite way to exercise and socialize at the same time. They described how the drop in nature of the game helped build friendships and boosted their mental health. More than a few people described their pickleball friends as their brothers and sisters. 

“I can’t do the sports I used to do,” Ken Weingartner told the commission. “This is what we have now. Even tennis for me now is too hard on the knees. Pickleball is the one game you can have and you can still go out and have an injury and play a game that doesn’t take a helluva lot of effort.”

Two people play pickleball at Manitou Park on a Friday evening. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Tennis players weren’t so enthused about the possibility of losing the courts in the neighborhood park. Several people testifying said they enjoyed playing tennis without having to travel very far and it was a good resource for their youth who are interested in the sport to practice without needing to pay for a club membership. 

“Dedicating the only tennis courts at this East End park to the exclusion of tennis will change the nature of this park,” Kerry Ellen Elliot said. “Pickleball is a party. Lots of people, lots of noise, lots of cars and all of that is great, but it is an activity that is better suited to a park where any negative impact to neighbors is remote.”

Nearby neighbors shared many of the same concerns about noise and traffic impacting their neighborhood. 

“This is my backyard literally and I don’t think listening to 24 players playing pickleball all day long…it would be equivalent to me to listening to dogs barking all day long,” Pam Fabrie said. “I’m retired, I’m home. I think leaving it the way it is would be my choice.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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