Winter Weather Warning: Don't Shovel the Pickleball Courts!

The snow melts fast in Colorado...but not fast enough for pickleball players.
The snow melts fast in Colorado...but not fast enough for pickleball players. Catie Cheshire
Denver residents can be ticketed for failing to shovel snow off the sidewalks in front of their homes. But they can also be ticketed if they decide to shovel snow in the city's parks. Because while sports fans may be tempted to clear the courts in order to play games of basketball, pickleball and tennis in the Denver sunshine, it's against the rules.

“They do way more damage to the courts when they try to shovel instead of letting it just melt naturally,” says Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation. “We do not allow it. To just go out there because you want to get out a day or two earlier and shovel is a very shortsighted way of trying to make sure that you can do what you want versus the good of the whole community.”

The court surfaces consist of specific overlays that can crack if scratched by a shovel, he explains.

Even so, people keep trying to clear the courts. A few years ago, a group of Washington Park tennis players were so eager to remove the snow that the city ultimately had to take away their shovels and scrapers, Gilmore recalls. And now a newer sport is creating a flurry of issues: pickleball.

Members of the Congress Park Pickleball Club had been shoveling snow off the four courts at Congress Park — but then their actions caught the attention of Parks and Recreation.

“We would absolutely not want to hurt the surface, the already degraded surface, by shoveling snow,” says Marc Nelson, a Congress Park Pickleball Club leader and chair of Denver Pickleball, a nonprofit group dedicated to the sport. “They’re threatening fines and sanctions. … We don't want to break more rules, and we don't want to defy the parks department. We want to work together.”

But working together hasn’t proved easy, and snow removal is just the latest layer of controversy.
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Picklers at Congress Park will go back to racking their paddles in the fence...when the courts are clear.
Marc Nelson
Last year, as the sport picked up in popularity, Nelson and other members of the Congress Park Pickleball Club worked to bring some order to the courts where up to 300 people a day would play. They installed their own paddle-racking system to the fence so that players could reserve spots. They also put in a coat rack and shelf for lost items, added a bucket for trash inside the courts, and posted a bulletin board with community guidelines on how to take care of the courts and be mindful of neighbors.

As Nelson saw it, everything they did was for the good of the park. But on November 10, a park ranger told the group to take everything down. Nelson reached out to Parks and Rec to ask why.

Although he admits that some of the additions broke city codes, he says that Parks and Rec isn’t receptive to working with the pickleball community and doesn't appreciate the group's actions to bring order to the area. “It looks like we're totally circumventing the rules, and we probably are bending the rules a little bit,” Nelson says. “It's just there's no one to reach. There's no one to talk to, and there's no one willing to do it. We're willing to reach out and create this community. “

According to Gilmore, the department is simply enforcing its rules. The items that were ordered removed in Congress Park wouldn't be allowed at any court. Instead, the department plans to buy and install a similar paddle-racking system at every pickleball court in the city. “The thing is, I don't want one specific group adding their equipment to the courts, because then they can actually have a say over who's using the court,” Gilmore explains.

This isn't the first time the city has taken action against an eager pickleball player who tries to make improvements, In March, 71-year-old Arlsan Guney was charged with criminal mischief, a felony, after he used a marker to draw one-by-one-inch squares on the basketball court at the Central Park Recreation Center in order to make it easier for people to set up temporary pickleball courts.

According to the warrant later issued for Guney's arrest, when employees tried to remove the marks, the cleaning product ended up removing the finish on the floor, too, causing $9,344.58 in damage. While the Denver district attorney ultimately dropped the charges, the lesson remained: The Denver Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't appreciate the do-it-yourself approach.
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Congress Park pickleball players have formed a community that plays in cold weather, too.
Marc Nelson
The department has recognized the boom in pickleball and is trying to accommodate demand, Gilmore says.The Congress Park renovation is part of that work, and the department is looking into other locations for new pickleball courts with enough parking and distance from homes to eliminate complaints.

The department is making improvements to current courts, too, Gilmore notes. Nelson had unsuccessfully lobbied Parks and Rec to allow the Congress Park picklers to put up a sound barrier, since neighbors had been complaining about the noise. As part of the current renovation of Congress Park, the pickleball courts will be moved to the interior of the park and their number doubled, from four to eight; the department will add sound barriers to the fencing.

But the city can't just cater to pickleball players. “We have tons and tons of different activities in our parks, and just because one sport or one activity starts to grow doesn't mean we stop serving all those other needs,” Gilmore explains. “Sometimes the pickleball players feel like they should take priority and we should change what we're doing, and that's just not a reality for what we're able to do.”

While pickleball players might think every park should have pickleball courts, some neighborhoods want things like futsal courts where kids can learn to play soccer, or playgrounds or basketball courts, he adds. And as it expands offerings, he points out, the department is focused on equity, working toward the goal of every person living within a “10 minute walk or roll” of a Denver park, pursuant to the 2019 Game Plan for a Healthy City.

“We have one of the most amazing, amazing park systems in the country, if not the world,” Gilmore says. “But as a department, and as a city, there are neighborhoods out there that don't have parks. Because of historical inequities...parks were built in wealthier neighborhoods, and neighborhoods that didn't have as much money, didn't have as much power and influence.... We really are concentrating on: Where are those parks? Where are those parts of the city where we need to add a park? Where do we need to provide a high-quality park for children and families that don't have any green space in their neighborhood?”

And while the department grapples with goals like that, pickleballers may just have to deal with some white space...until the snow melts.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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