By Steve Hubrecht

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Conflict over recreational court space continues in Invermere. 

The Invermere Pickleball Club has been booking out the Mount Nelson Athletic Park (MNAP) courts in Invermere on a trial basis throughout the summer, but the move has left at least one resident who used to regularly use the courts for morning hoops practice with nowhere to shoot.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity across the continent over the past few years, including here in the Columbia Valley, and the Invermere Pickleball Club has been seeking dedicated outdoor court space somewhere in the district for some time. The club lobbied Invermere council passionately and extensively for such space starting in spring 2022, turning out in huge numbers at multiple council meetings to make their case. 

Last spring council debated having a booking system to let various recreational user groups have guaranteed dedicated times at the district’s various recreation facilities. This summer Invermere council assented to letting the pickleball club book the MNAP courts from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays through Saturdays, on a 90-day trial basis.

This came as a surprise to local teen Craig Hale, who showed up at the MNAP courts to play basketball one morning this summer, as he has most mornings for the past several summers, only to find both courts filled with pickleball players. He came back another morning and was greeted with the same situation. Hale asked when he would be able to play, and that’s when he found out the pickleball club had booked the space every morning of the week except Sundays.

During last week’s Tuesday, Sept. 12 Invermere council meeting, Hale appeared as a delegation before councillors. “I can’t play in the evenings,” he explained, outlining that, like many local teens, he works a summer job during July and August. Most summer jobs for teens are in the local restaurant industry, continued Hale, which means working during the evenings.

That left Hale and his friends with the choice of playing in the early afternoons, playing only on Sundays, or not playing at all. The problem was that, with temperatures often in excess of 30 degrees Celsius during July and August, playing in the early afternoon — when the sun is at its most intense — is less than ideal, said Hale.

“It was really hot out then. I did end up playing at that time, because I’m not going to not play basketball,” he said, adding, however, that most teens are not that passionate about getting outside for sports, and would opt to just stay inside. He also told councillors that as he doesn’t have a driver’s licence, he can’t easily access the basketball courts at the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre at the Akisqnuk First Nations.

Speaking after the meeting, Hale told the Pioneer that given how ubiquitous phones and screens are these days “it’s way easier than ever to just stay inside all day . . . for me getting outside is just part of my life. But for some, that little bit of basketball might be all they do outside. They might spend the rest of the day inside.”

Hale said that having one user group book out both courts “six out of seven mornings a week over the summer holidays does seem a bit unfair.” He suggested that perhaps the pickleball players could book both courts for exclusive use two mornings a week over the summer, or they could book one court for exclusive use four mornings a week and leave the other court open to other user groups.

Councillor Grant Kelly emphasized that the 90 days was just a trial. It was only a temporary arrangement because “we anticipated there could be issues . . . we’ve had a few of these comments,” said Kelly. Fellow councillor Gerry Taft added, “the ultimate solution is more court space. Multi-use courts or multi-use facilities sound good in theory, but really what we’ve seen is that everybody wants their own dedicated time.”