Fort Thomas no longer in a pickle over pickleball

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With an estimated 4.8 million players, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., according to sports and recreation experts. It’s growing in popularity in Fort Thomas, but the city has yet to find a permanent home for the game. Yet, thanks to local pickleball enthusiasts — and their tennis-playing brethren — a solution seems at hand.

Although further plans are in place for permanent pickleball-only courts, for now, the two lower-level Tower Park tennis courts will be permanently marked for pickleball fun. The marking will not interfere with tennis on those courts but will allow for an easier shift between the sports.

Jeff Bezold, chair of the city council’s recreation committee, said they were prepared, at first, to recommend turning the two lower tennis courts into pickleball courts exclusively, but after hearing from both tennis and pickleball players, the committee decided to re-evaluate its recommendation.

“The recreation committee met a couple of weeks back, and we discussed the pickleball and tennis options,” he said. “At the time, we decided to move forward with designating the lower courts for pickleball. Since then, there’s been some more information come our way…We’re hearing pickleball and tennis can live happily together on those lower courts. And I think that’s going to be the best solution.”

A plan, but when?

Council heard from both tennis and pickleball players at the May council meeting.

Resident Thomas Meyer came to plead the case for pickleball.

“So I play a heck of a lot of pickleball around here,” Meyer said. “And, I would love to learn a little bit more about what the plans are for a permanent solution for our town, because it does seem like we’re losing momentum to other towns.”

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He said he and his friends travel to Fort Mitchell, Cold Spring and to Sawyer Point in Cincinnati to find places to play their favorite sport. He doesn’t want to displace tennis players, especially not local school tennis teams, but said he is disappointed to have to go out of the city to find a court.

Mayor Eric Haas explained when Wayne Carlisle donated land along Memorial Parkway for a new park, a plan soon developed to put permanent pickleball courts there. The issue, however, has been timing. The land for the park has drainage issues. The city is working with SD1, the city of Newport and engineers to address the issues, but it is not clear when the land will be ready to become a park.

For now, a sympatico solution?

The father of a Highlands High School tennis player spoke about how important the sport is to his son and noted that losing two out of the six Tower Park tennis courts would make it nearly impossible for the very full roster of varsity and junior varsity school tennis teams to find court time for practices, games and tournaments. He noted a temporary setup for pickleball would be fine, but he would not want to lose two courts to pickleball entirely.

Resident Sarah Beasey said she plays tennis regularly.

“We appreciate you all realizing that tennis is really important to the city,” Beasey said. “But also we believe there’s a place for pickleball too.”

All agreed adding permanent marks for pickleball to the two lower tennis courts was the simplest solution and allowed for both tennis and pickleball players to have what they needed to play their chosen sports.

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Bezold noted the option to turn two of the tennis courts into permanent pickleball courts would have cost around $15,000 while adding permanent lines but keeping the two courts as multiuse (tennis and pickleball) would only cost around $3,500.

A permanent home for the long run

The compromise to add lines to two Tower Park courts will keep players happy for now, but city officials recognized full permanent pickleball courts are needed. Plans are moving forward for Carlisle Park, but council member Adam Blau and others asked if Highland Hills Park might be considered.

He said Carlisle is still a long way off and he had some concerns about traffic at that park. He also noted there has been mention of looking at Highland Park, but he’s not seen any plans yet. That location would also be a lot closer to area restaurants and coffee shops that could use the business pulled in by pickleball.

“I think it’s a viable option. I think we should continue to research that as well…Wherever you’re at, it’s going to draw people,” he said.

When discussion of Highland Hills Park for pickleball first came up, some community members said noise would be an issue. Council member Andy Ellison, a member of the recreation committee, dug into this issue and presented some facts about noise as it relates to pickleball and safety:

“OSHA declares that above 90 decibels can be damaging to your ears,” said Ellison. “So pickleball at 100 feet is 70 decibels. At 200 feet, it’s 64 decibels, at 400 feet, which is the closest house to where the pickleball would be, is 58 decibels. And, they actually also make a screen material that drops the decibel by another 20 decibels. If you think of a splash park in Highland Park, a screaming child is 120 decibels. So, I think the noise factor at Highland Park isn’t there.”

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Blau said now that the proposed splash pad near the Fort Thomas Swim Club has been nixed, the city should move forward with other plans for Highland Park, including a deal with the swim club to secure better access from James Avenue, a parking lot, practice field and possibly pickleball.

He made a motion to take the issue back to the recreation committee to come up with a plan. The motion passed.

Council voted to add permanent pickleball markings to the two lower tennis courts in Tower Park at a cost of around $3,500 and to also look into a possible storage shed. Pickleball players also requested new nets.

Bezold said nets could come out of the recreation budget but he needed more information on what was needed. He invited players to come to the next recreation committee meeting or to send him details directly. The input he’s received so far has been key to finding a solution that makes everyone happy, he said.

“I do think it’s important to say this…We’re not experts in tennis or pickleball. So, we needed community feedback,” said Bezold.

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