ASHEVILLE - Today's burning question explores pickleball court plans in Buncombe and Henderson counties and what's in the works for the Asheville's most divisive sport! Got a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Interim Executive Editor Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com and your question could appear in an upcoming column.
Question: With the tremendous increase in the number of individuals wanting to play pickleball there has been a lot of back and forth between pickleball players and tennis players for surfaces to play on. All this discussion has gone on regarding facilities within the city limits of Asheville. I'm quite surprised that Buncombe County has not been involved in the discussions.
To some extent that could also include Henderson county. I know there are communities where there are designated pickleball courts. It seems to me that the Buncombe County Sports Park off Sandhill School Road would make an excellent site for several designated courts ... Also, just across the county line in Henderson county in the town of Fletcher, the city park is quite large with a lot of open space. Would the city of Fletcher or Henderson county consider building courts there that would be designated strictly for pickleball?
Answer: Depending on your side in the Great Pickleball Debate, there is good news on the way. Unless you live in a community like Montford, where pickleball haunts your every waking hour.
One longtime Henderson County pickleball advocate, Dennis Justice, founder of Blue Ridge Pickleball, said more courts are coming to the county and its municipalities, Hendersonville and Fletcher, which he hopes is a first step toward meeting the area's demand.
Pickleball is a tennis-badminton-ping pong hybrid played with paddles and a hard, plastic whiffle-like ball. Pickleball has more than 2,000 active users registered on a popular pickleball scheduling site in Asheville. A single tennis court can accommodate two pickleball games at once, usually with four players each.
Quickly growing in popularity nationwide, demands for dedicated courts are a common call at Asheville City Council meetings and beyond.
What are Buncombe's pickleball plans? Is the sports park an option?
After Asheville Parks and Recreation announced its plan earlier in November, there were mixed reactions, but the result is the same: a compromise to dual-line all public outdoor hard surface courts for both pickleball and tennis.
This compromise will preserve the city's inventory of 11 public tennis courts and nearly double the pickleball offerings from 12 to 22 courts. The conversion is expected to begin in early 2023.
But when considering long range plans, and answering the impassioned call for dedicated pickleball courts, of which there are none in Asheville, the city took a diplomatic approach.
According to Asheville Parks and Recreation spokesperson Christo Bubenik, "an upcoming master planning process will help identify opportunities, prioritize parks and recreation needs in the city, and act as a tool to secure funding for identified projects."
The last master plan was published in 2009, and he said the department is due for an update.
"While tennis and pickleball are front and center this week, skaters, bikers, field hockey players, and more community park users also have creative ideas to support their sports and leisure activities," Bubenik said in early November after the court solution was announced.
When asked about their pickleball plans, Buncombe County took a similar stance: wait and see.
At this time, the county does not have any pickleball offerings, said spokesperson Kassi Day.
She said there are currently no discussions about pickleball facilities at the Buncombe County Sports Park. Any location considered for courts would need to have enough space to accommodate pickleball courts and parking.
"Parks and Recreation will be doing a comprehensive plan for the department to assess the needs of the County including gaps in services," Day said. "We are aware of the need for designated pickleball courts and are assessing potential locations to meet this need."
Pickleball courts in Fletcher? Henderson County?
Meanwhile in Fletcher, at its Sept. 12 meeting, Town Council unanimously approved a final design concept for multiuse courts at Bill Moore Community Park, which will include four dedicated pickleball courts, one tennis court and one basketball court.
Fletcher Parks and Recreation could not immediately be reached for comment regarding timeline and other details, but meeting discussion with McGill Associates, the engineering firm handling the project, indicated they are working on the final design and the project is soon to go to the bidding process.
In a Sept. 6 update on the proposal, the cost estimate for the project sat at about $451,000.
After years of call for dedicated courts in Henderson County, Justice said the tides are turning.
“I like the way that all these local governments are doing it. … They’re dipping their toe in the water, they’re gauging what the real interest is," Justice said. "We’re very grateful that all of the sudden the local government is saying, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”
It's an effort that he said is "trying to prevent the friction that is happening at Asheville with the pickleball and tennis community."
Until now, most pickleball play has happened at the Henderson County Athletics & Activity Center, and a handful of dual-lined courts.
Fletcher isn't the only locality getting in on the action. In September, Hendersonville City Council approved six pickleball courts and two tennis courts at Patton Park.
The project will replace the park's former racquetball courts and current tennis courts.
Hendersonville spokesperson Allison Justus said these would be the first city of Hendersonville courts solely dedicated to pickleball.
With even more courts likely on the way for Henderson County, Justice said he is hopeful about what's the come for pickleball in Henderson and Buncombe counties, both.
“We don’t want to over expand," he said, "but if we could get these two counties showing what the demand is, I think we could get a pickleball complex in the not-too-distant future."
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Answer Woman: Are pickleball courts coming to Buncombe, Henderson?