By Steve Hubrecht

The District of Invermere has dropped the idea of turning one of the Pynelogs Rotary Ball Park tennis courts into a pickleball court.

The possibility of converting one of the three tennis courts there was floated by the district earlier this spring, after more than a year of pressure from the Invermere Pickleball Club for dedicated outdoor pickleball court space. The tennis courts are due for re-surfacing this year, and district staff suggested that, while this work was happening, one of those tennis courts could be refitted into four pickleball courts.

The notion quickly met with disapproval from residents living near the tennis courts, from local tennis players, and also from pickleball players. As a result, the district dropped the proposal like a hot potato during its most recent council meeting held on Tuesday, May 23.

Invermere director of public works and operations Angela MacLean explained to council that the district started getting “quite a number of comments” as soon as the proposal was made public. 

“We did not receive any positive feedback” and all the commenters were opposed to the idea, said MacLean.

There were multiple reasons for the discontent: Neighbourhood residents were upset by the noise associated with pickleball and the potential for extra traffic; tennis players were unhappy about losing playing space and about the safety implications of having tennis and pickleball happening simultaneously; and pickleballers didn’t like the proposal because they don’t want to create conflict with tennis players over court space.

Council was clear that they would not pursue the proposal further, but an issue remains: The tennis courts need to be re-done this year, but the district has a budget shortfall of $15,000 for the work “just because of the cost of paving” outlined MacLean. Councillors talked at length about where that money should come from, with some suggesting seeking a contribution from Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area F, since some of the tennis players who regularly use the Pynelogs courts live in Windermere and Fairmont.

Other points stemming from the courts prompted even more discussion. Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young noted that the district has quite a lot of recreation user groups, and limited court facilities. “One of the lessons that can be drawn from the consultation to this point is that there seems to be a need to share courts, when possible, wherever they may be,” he said. Young explained that he’d spent some time on the weekend investigating how much the Pynelogs Rotary Ball Park tennis courts get used. He reported that there were times when all the courts were full, but also “I did notice, despite the rain, there were times when not any of the courts were in use”, and that this is also true of the tennis courts at Mount Nelson Athletic Park (MNAP). 

Councillor Kayja Becker, who was acting as mayor during the meeting, in the absence of Invermere Mayor Al Miller, suggested that “if recreation user groups want publicly funded recreation space, they may need to share. If you would like more elaborate, dedicated courts where you don’t have to look at (painted) lines for other sports, they may need to help fund that.”

Taft was steadfastly against sharing courts. “Multi-use sounds great in theory, but in practice it isn’t great. We’ve seen that at MNAP. It creates conflict,” he said. Taft proposed that if courts and other recreation facilities are to be shared, the district will need to put a booking system in place for the various recreation user groups.

Council members debated that idea back and forth without coming to any concrete agreement.

“We’re spending a lot of time on this, and I don’t even think anybody’s going to be happy with what we come up with, whatever it may be . . . there’s been a lot of finger pointing,” said Taft, who then suggested that the district invite representatives of the recreation groups that use the district’s courts (at Pynelogs and at MNAP) to form a committee.

“Together they can make a logical proposal and come back to us,” he said.

Council members then talked about whether such a committee should be organized and led by the district or organized independently.

Councillor Grant Kelly was in favour of having the district lead the effort, saying a coordinator would be good, and that conflicts over court use at MNAP indicate the user groups may not be able to get along on their own without a facilitator.

Young noted it has been a “circumlocutious discussion” without any clear solutions. He added that district staff have been working on a report pertaining to recreation use, which when complete, may help council members in their decision. He expects the report to be ready in the near future. Council agreed to wait for the report before making any decision on a sports recreation committee.