By Nancy Kress

Special to the Union-Bulletin

The Walla Walla Pickleball Association is pleased the Walla Walla City Council recognizes the need for additional public pickleball courts in our valley. Pickleball is exploding around the country (21.3% growth in 2020) and its popularity in Walla Walla mirrors the national trend. The sport is easy to learn, a joy to play at any age, and requires minimal financial investment. The six courts at Pioneer Park are Walla Walla’s only public courts and are often too full to accommodate all who want to play.

During the time of COVID-19, including all winter long, pickleball has been the go-to activity for dozens of people seeking a safe way to exercise outdoors in the company of others. The City Council is currently considering where best to locate new courts and whether to commit public funds to the project.

Of all the city parks in Walla Walla, Howard Tietan Park is the best location for an eight court “Pickleplex.” After carefully considering 12 potential public sites, including Eastgate Lions, this was the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Department and was unanimously affirmed by the Parks, Recreation and Urban Forestry Advisory Board in February. Howard Tietan Park is centrally located and the courts fit between mature shade trees on all sides. There is ample designated parking both in the 80-space parking lot and along Howard and Tietan Streets.

This park lacks participatory amenities in comparison to other parks its size and adding pickleball would infuse it with activity that it lacks three fourths of the year. Installing a bicycle rack for the many players who are also bike riders is part of the plan.

An eight court Pickleplex is equivalent in size to two and a half tennis courts and, when full, accommodate more participants per square foot than any other sport. Thirty-two players ranging in age from 9 to 90 can together enjoy the camaraderie, competition and sportsmanship that typify pickleball. Eight courts at a single site is the most effective way to provide adequate court space for open play while conducting specific activities such as beginners and singles play, skills and drills, league play, lessons and clinics. Tournaments also are better served with eight courts to accommodate more of the high demand for registration. The hoped-for Pickleplex will provide enough court space to stay in front of the upward curve of demand for America’s fastest growing sport.

During the last several weeks, the WWPA has worked diligently toward making these new courts a reality for the city. Among other actions, we have the following:

  • Designed and located the courts to minimize the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, to avoid interference with other uses of Howard Tietan Park, and to preserve mature trees while planning to transplant three small ones.
  • Circulated informational material about the proposed courts to 45 homes around Howard Tietan Park, met personally with many neighbors and experienced their enthused support.
  • Raised over $135,000 largely from the WWPA community.
  • Received bids and secured pledges of substantial in-kind donations from critical contractors wanting to enhance the city’s park system with this popular sport.

In short, the WWPA has done everything it could to serve up pickleball at Howard Tietan Park. Once the location of this pickleball facility is approved, the WWPA will resume its fundraising efforts towards helping to finance this prospective $350,000 project.

We recognize that in COVID-driven times, the demand on limited resources is likely acute. Partnering financially in this high-quality public project, however, would be a prudent investment for the long-term benefit of the city and its under-served adult recreation community.

We hope that the Council approves the Howard Tietan Park location on April 14, and we encourage our community to support adding this recreational jewel to the crown of Walla Walla’s amazing public parks.

Nancy Kress is president of the Walla Walla Pickleball Association.