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Lithia Park courts closed for pickleball conversion

Photo courtesy of the Southern Oregon Pickleball Association | Once the paint surface dries, Ashland parks staff plan to install the posts for permanent pickleball netting on the lower court in Lithia Park.

ASHLAND — The Lithia Park courts are closed until the surface dries on the newly painted pickleball layout.

As a result of an effort driven by pickleball enthusiasts and approved by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, all eight Lithia Park courts are being converted from multi-use to standard pickleball striping and setup.

Depending on surface curing time, the upper court could reopen the week of Sept. 13 with permanent nets, and the lower court will likely open the week of Sept. 20 with temporary nets, said APRC Deputy Director Rachel Dials.

On Aug. 12, 2020, APRC approved converting the upper court from mixed-use tennis/pickleball to dedicated for pickleball, and agreed to reevaluate court usage after one year.

The pickleball community uses the courts “almost every day of the week,” Dials said.

After resurfacing work in 2020, the court surface did not properly dry, leading to wear-through in the paint, Dials said. Resurfacing repair was covered under warranty with the contractor. The Southern Oregon Pickleball Association supplied $3,300 for specific painting in the “kitchen” area of the courts — the non-volley zone extending seven feet deep into the court from each side of the net.

During an APRC special meeting Aug. 4, Commissioner Rick Landt said requiring SOPA to cover the cost of painting the kitchens aligned with the conditions of previous special interest requests on the recreation system, as the courts would be functional without a specially painted area.

Pickleball has become popular enough among locals and visitors that a line often forms to use the courts on weekends, said Cori Frank, retired nurse and pickleball player, during a public hearing at the APRC meeting.

“We don’t want lines right now, especially with the pandemic increasing,” Frank said in support of the conversion. “We want social distancing, and yet we need the exercise. We need the socialization. This has really been a lifesaver for me during the pandemic.”

Jack Methot, president of SOPA, said some members of the tennis community objected to the court conversion and wanted to reserve or share half of the total space. Ample tennis courts are available at Hunter Park, he said, and the conversion of Lithia Park courts would allow more people to play pickleball at once.

With the restriping of Lithia Park courts, Ashland parks feature eight courts dedicated to pickleball, seven courts dedicated to tennis and one mixed-use court shared among tennis, futsal and bike polo users.

Dials said due to recent feedback about conflicting uses on Hunter Park court No. 5 on certain days of the week, non-tennis groups now replace the tennis net at night prior to leaving, so the space is prepared for a “log jam” of tennis players between 8 and 10 a.m. the next day.

Eight tennis courts are available seven days per week between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., she said.

In a motion to approve the dedication of Lithia Park courts to pickleball, Landt included a moratorium on any proposed usage changes at Hunter Park tennis courts for a minimum of two years — acknowledging potential concerns about further “erosion” to tennis space — and until data is evaluated regarding recreational usage at both court sites. The motion passed unanimously.

In support of the conversion, Commissioner Julian Bell said APRC has an obligation to keep pace with changes in recreational preferences and interests.

“If we’re going to provide real-time recreational opportunities, they have to relate to real-time activities that people want to do,” Bell said. “I think we should be relatively nimble in terms of how we’re trying to accommodate public demand.”

The commission tabled discussion of removing historic rock to connect fences across the court and address a safety concern associated with rock stairs separating the pickleball courts, pending further information from the site contractor about the structural integrity of the rock and costs associated with post placement options.

APRC is scheduled to meet in study session Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. and in regular session Sept. 8 at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.