Denver Parks and Recreation charges Pickleball from Congress Park, Sloans Lake

DENVER — Pickleball players are losing seats to play on the subway as Denver Parks and Recreation permanently close seats in Congress Park on Monday. This follows the city last week abandoning plans to build courts in Sloans Lake Park and last month the City of Centennial imposed a moratorium on courts within 500 feet of homes.

At the heart of the controversy is the noise level of the plastic ball hitting the paddles and court surface. Aware of the nuisance caused by local residents near the plazas, pickleball players at Congress Park had hoped for a proposed solution that would have placed the plazas farther from homes and installed acoustic fence walls to stem the noise.

“The annoying thing is that we all agreed, and have agreed for a long time, that this is too close to apartment buildings and should be moved – and that was the plan,” said player Mike Altreuter. “There are certainly enough people who support the pitches and who want to play here and have a deep sense of loss today. I keep getting sad text messages today.”

Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation, said the decision to close the courses at Congress Park came after countless noise complaints from nearby residents and because the sport’s popularity has prompted a huge influx of traffic into the relatively brought small Congress Park .

According to Gilmore, city inspectors took noise measurements at 19 homes near Congress Park’s pickleball courts and found 16 of them to be above the city’s 55-decibel limit.

“It’s not a very big park. It’s a neighborhood park,” Gilmore said. “It overwhelms the park and the neighborhood. Between the problems with pickleballs and others – just park in the neighborhood. People can’t park in the neighborhood. They cannot leave their driveways.”

Gilmore said there are no plans to close other pickleball courts in Denver at this time, but the city must “evaluate them on a case-by-case basis” if usage increases to the point of causing similar problems in their respective neighborhoods.

“My goal is to make sure these areas work for everyone, not just one user group,” Gilmore said.

Pickleball as a sport isn’t new, but its popularity has exploded since the pandemic. The Association of Pickleball Professionals estimates that in 2022 there were 36.5 million players in the United States.

“What bigger trend have we seen than pet rock and pickleball? It’s a huge trend,” laughed Marc Nelson, a pickleball player who visited Congress Park. “And it’s going to continue to grow because it’s easy to learn, it’s fun, and you have a community.”

Nelson has agreed to serve on a city “Pickleball Advisory Committee” to help deal with the sport’s growing popularity and the problems it brings. He said he was disappointed that the decision to close the courts at Congress Park was made before the committee could offer some alternatives that would have allowed play to continue there.

“I know [the city] measured the sound and it’s very loud right next to the houses. But can we just put up makeshift fences and acoustic sound and see what the measure would have been?” Nelson said. “This means so much to so many people, so I just wish we could have tried.”

Several Congress Park regulars made their way to the four courts at Martin Luther King Park to play Monday and never missed a day even when their home courts were closed.

The city hopes this points to a permanent solution: building a large complex, perhaps in Burns Park, that would provide plenty of pickleball space outside of homes. This proposal was met with skepticism by players, who said such a complex was years away – if built at all. Plus, they added, it might shut out their pickleball friends who don’t have cars.

“I met a community of people [at Congress Park] who don’t drive,” said Natalie Hughes. “They walk. They bike. They don’t own cars and they can’t – they live in assisted living situations. And taking away those parks means taking away their mental, social and physical well-being every day… I just want to talk to the people, who have a problem with that. Let’s meet in the middle.”

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