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No stopping pickleball: 2 Darden Towe tennis courts converted for new use

The first public, outdoor dedicated pickleball courts in the Charlottesville area are ready to rally.

Two tennis courts at Darden Towe Park in Albemarle County recently were converted to six pickleball courts, thanks to the Central Virginia Pickleball Club, which raised funds to have the courts repainted and nets purchased. The courts are available for the entire community to use.

“Anytime the park is open, anyone can head on out there and have a great time,” said Kayla Johnson, president of the club.

The club recently held a Pickleball Palooza to thank those who helped to make the courts possible and to play on the new courts.

Darden Towe Park is jointly owned by the city and county. The Darden Towe Park Committee — made up of two city councilors and two county supervisors — meets to provide direction to city and county parks and recreation directors as requested. The committee voted on the court conversion proposal in April.

“The demand for pickleball is growing in the community, and during COVID, the amount of people playing pickleball has just really grown,” said Amy Smith, Albemarle’s assistant director of parks and recreation.

In 2018, both parks departments submitted requests for funding for a total of $380,000 to build dedicated pickleball courts at Darden Towe through each locality’s capital improvement program. Charlottesville Parks and Recreation received $117,800 from the city, but Albemarle Parks and Recreation did not receive the requested $262,000 for its share.

Without enough funding for brand-new pickleball courts, Johnson and Teddy Hamilton, the former club president, worked to come up with the conversion proposal, which cost about $20,000 for the painting and nets.

“Once we got the buzz out and said, ‘Hey, we have this proposal, we really think this might actually go through,’ goodness, it just spread like wildfire at that point and we were able to get people to help donate,” Johnson said. “All we needed were those ‘yes’es, those approvals from the city and county, and off we went.”

Albemarle Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she and Supervisor Donna Price “crushed” City Councilors Lloyd Snook and Michael Payne in a game of pickleball at the Palooza.

LaPisto-Kirtley said she’s only heard from two area residents who questioned the conversion.

“We still want tennis and, hopefully, we can build more tennis courts and more pickleball courts in the future, but there’s definitely a bigger, larger need for pickleball,” she said.

Smith said the cricket pitch, mainly in use by the Charlottesville Cricket Club, at the park was established in a similar way and also went before the Darden Towe Park Committee.

“They voted that it would be a good use to keep up with whatever the community needs and what the demand is and try to offer as many different opportunities as we can for the community,” she said.

At the committee’s meeting in April, parks and recreation staff also talked about potentially putting up a fence between the tennis courts and adding gate counters to see how many people were using each side, but Smith said they have decided against that plan.

“We’re still researching how we’re going to do the data,” she said. “We’re thinking about having staff just go by the tennis courts area twice a day and do a count. We want to make sure we do something that’s accurate and safe.”

There was some concern about converting the tennis courts, but there are at least 50 other publicly available tennis courts at schools and other parks, Smith said. If it doesn’t seem like pickleball is popular, the tennis courts could be restored at a fairly low cost.

“No matter what sport or activity people want to play, we want to provide every opportunity to get people to be outside in the fresh air and just be social,” Smith said. “Especially this last year, we all know how important being in the community is and being outside and being with other people, so anything we can do to foster more of that is awesome.”


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