Pickleball anyone?

County to install new courts for growing sport

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 2/15/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The future of parks, recreation, leisure activities and ecotourism dominated the Feb. 14 meeting of the Clay County Board of County Commissioners, with fans of pickleball …

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Pickleball anyone?

County to install new courts for growing sport

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The future of parks, recreation, leisure activities and ecotourism dominated the Feb. 14 meeting of the Clay County Board of County Commissioners, with fans of pickleball scoring some winning points.

Commissioners listened to a variety of presentations from information on bike paths, trails, blueways and roads to Airbnb bed taxes and support for golf marketing and pickleball fans.

While many of the discussions were basically for informational purposes, some became action items. Those included support for pickleball courts and the continuation of funding for the promotion of the golfing industry in Clay County.

Pickleball fans were among the biggest winners of the night as they saw the BCC approve, by a unanimous 5-0 vote, the conversion of a set of tennis courts at Ronnie Van Zant Park in Lake Asbury. The conversion of two tennis courts will result in six pickleball courts, said James Householder, facilities director for the county.

Pickleball is a sport that is sweeping the country and is especially popular with senior citizens because it is lower impact than tennis, a sport it resembles, said Danny Blevins, a staunch supporter of the game. It utilizes a smaller court than a tennis court, a paddle that is a bit bigger than a badminton paddle and uses a wiffle ball. Blevins appeared at the meeting with a number of other pickleball players and requested that commissioners convert the Van Zant tennis courts to pickleball courts.

Blevins said the players were suggesting the Van Zant Park courts because the location is centrally located in the county and there would still be courts left for tennis players after two courts were converted. It would probably be the least expensive for the county to convert since there is already a concrete pad in place as well as fencing, he said.

A few courts in the area have already been restriped to allow for pickleball play, but Blevins said that just didn’t work well for the players.

“Keep in mind as you consider our request that taking a tennis court and painting lines on the court and calling it a pickleball court is like building a little league baseball field and not having a third base,” he said.

Householder said money had already been budgeted this year for resurfacing courts at various parks, with a little over $14,000 going to Ronnie Van Zant Park. About another $10,000 of that already budgeted money will be used to take care of such things as new nets and poles for the pickleball court conversion, he estimated.

The idea of providing a new activity for seniors is something that falls in line with what the county is hoping to build on, Householder said. Discussions between Householder and the newly arrived director of Parks and Recreation department manager Michelle Sharp have centered on reaching out to a variety of citizens, he said.

“It was our intent to broaden our view on the services that we’re providing to different levels of the community, not just school age ball players, but also try to look for things that we can offer the senior citizens and on the other side, too, we’ll eventually start looking for stuff for toddlers. We want to cover everybody,” Householder said. “So I think this is a good plan.”

The courts should be ready by late spring or this summer, Householder said after the meeting.

The commission also approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote the continuation of its marketing partnership with Florida’s First Coast of Golf by investing $25,500 again this year with the group.

Kimberly Morgan, the county’s new director of tourism and film development, said the partnership has been in effect since 1992, and results in a much more expansive exposure for Clay County’s golfing industry than it could provide on its own. A destination marketing consortium for seven counties in Northeast Florida, it performs digital marketing through blogs, e-newsletters to its 84,000 subscribers and also publishes print ads in publications related to golfing and other activities.

“We couldn’t do this on our own,” she said.

The county has six golf courses, Morgan said. Statistics show that in December of 2016 alone, 1,598 golf rounds were played here, she added.

Even so, Commissioner Gayward F. Hendry said he would support the funding for this year, but next year would want to see more documentation of the support the county was receiving from the partnership.

Commissioners also approved a bid of $457,000 to build a large group shelter or pavilion at the Moody Avenue Park ADA Baseball Field. The project has been long in the making, said Vice Chairwoman Diane Hutchings, in whose district the park lies.

“We’ve been waiting four years on this,” she said. “This is certainly an underserved segment of our community and it’s going to be very exciting to be out here and let the kids in their wheelchairs be able to play ball. This is one of those things you just feel good about all over.”

The commission also heard a report from Chris Rodatz, who is heading up the Clay County Bike, Blueways and Trail Committee. Formerly known as the ecotourism committee, the group is concentrating on a variety of activities that can contribute to the quality of life as well as serve as an economic development engine, Rodatz said.

One committee suggestion calls for appointing or hiring a bicycle-pedestrian coordinator to help the county reverse its reputation as being unfriendly to bikers as well as runners and walkers.

“Clay County and Duval County have a terrible reputation as far as bicyclist-driver relationships. Duval is getting better on it kicking and screaming; they’ve been forced to do it and Clay County needs to be right behind them,” he said.

Rodatz also suggested cleaning and clearing grass and trash from existing trails and utilizing signage that would remind people to “share the road.

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