Sport’s popularity puts players in a pickle

As interest in pickleball increases, players causing ‘wear and tear’ on Washougal courts

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Local residents play a game of pickleball at Washougal's Hathaway Park in October 2019. (Post-Record file photo)

Mike Wolfe has seen more and more new faces during his regular trips to the pickleball courts at Hathaway Park in Washougal as one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States continues to gain popularity in East Clark County.

The Washougal resident started the Columbia River Pickleball Club (CRPC) in 2012 with an initial goal of attracting 20 to 30 players for organized competition. Now the Vancouver-based club has 642 members, including 112 from its Camas-Washougal chapter.

“Pretty much all 112 play (at Hathaway Park),” said Wolfe, the chapter’s vice president. “And that’s just club members. The total number of people who play fairly often is 200-plus. In the summertime, we have over 40 people there every morning and another group in the afternoon seven days a week. Lately, more families and young people have been playing. It amazes me. I keep thinking that with more and more people wanting to play the area will become saturated, but it hasn’t happened.”

The growth of the local pickleball community has caused one problem, however. With more players comes more wear and tear on the courts. As a result, the playing surfaces, which were named Wolfe Courts last year in honor of Wolfe and his wife, Tawn, are in desperate need of repair.

“Our courts are becoming very popular,” CRPC Camas-Washougal chapter president Lynda Boesel wrote in a recent Facebook post, “and to have them resurfaced is long overdue.”

The city of Washougal is applying for a $15,400 grant from the Parks Foundation of Clark County (PFCC) to refurbish the playing surfaces.

“The courts are still playable, some better than others,” Wolfe said. “There are dead spots in places. Originally, the courts were in really bad condition. They had large cracks that had to be filled in and sealed up, but they will continue to appear, probably forever until the courts are totally redone. All of the courts are all playable, but everyone who plays regularly knows which ones are better. You can still have good games on them, but they’re not anywhere close to perfect.”

The chapter also is soliciting donations for the refurbishing project, Wolfe said.

“A lot of our players want to donate money, but they’re reluctant to do so if they’re not sure the project is going to actually happen,” he said. “I plan to talk to the parks foundation (leaders) and give them a promise that if the grant is approved and the city says ‘yes,’ we’ll give them the money (we’ve collected). I don’t know for sure, but I think we could raise half the grant money if our members know for sure that the project is going to happen.”

Wolfe is trying to accommodate for his club’s growth in other ways as well. He’s talked with Roy Kim, the owner of Portland-based RKm Development, about the possibility of including an indoor pickleball complex in the Port of Camas-Washougal’s waterfront development.

Wolfe has had preliminary discussions with representatives from Chicken N Pickle, a Kansas-based chain of indoor/outdoor entertainment complexes that feature casual dining, indoor pickleball courts and a variety of other “yard” games.

Chicken N Pickle currently has locations in Kansas City, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; San Antonio, Texas; Overland Park, Kansas; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and plans to open a complex in Grand Prairie, Texas, later this year.

“I think this would be a perfect fit for the Port,” Wolfe said. “I’ve stayed in contact with the Chicken N Pickle people, and they’ve been in contact with Kim. I’m hoping to get representatives from their company to come out for a visit so we can convince them that we have a good location for a facility. They are very successful. Five years ago, I would’ve said that something like this would be a gamble, but they’ve been successful in enough other places to believe that (their business model is sustainable).”

Wolfe speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic might be one of the reasons for the increase of local players as parents and children, many of whom are confined to their homes for work or school, look to engage in safe, healthy outdoor activities.

He said that while dozens of people gather at the courts every day, they’re careful to wear masks at all times and maintain social distance. As far as he knows, not one club member has “Throughout the pandemic, all of us pickleball players have taken high respect to stay safe and follow all protocols while being on the courts for outside play,” Boesel wrote on Facebook. “I look forward to the times when we can fully open back up again and stay safe and still enjoy the sport. I have found my place in life with a sport that I am totally addicted to and will always love. The most amazing thing is to share it with so many people.”