DENVER — Pickleball players are losing places to play in the metro, with Denver Parks and Recreation permanently closing courts at Congress Park Monday. This follows the city ditching plans to build courts at Sloans Lake Park last week, as well as the city of Centennial putting a moratorium on courts within 500 feet of homes last month.
At the center of the controversy is the noise level from the plastic ball hitting the paddles and court top. Pickleball players at Congress Park were aware of the annoyance it has caused residents near the courts, and had hoped for a proposed solution that would have moved the courts further from homes and installed acoustic fencing screens to curb the noise.
“The upsetting part is that we all agreed, and have agreed for a long time, that this is too close to residences and it should be moved — and that was the plan,” said player Mike Altreuter. “There are certainly enough people supporting the courts and who want to play here and have a deep sense of loss today. I keep getting sad text messages today.”
Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director for Denver Parks and Recreation, said the decision to shut down the courts at Congress Park came after countless noise complaints from people living nearby, and as the sport’s popularity brought a huge influx of traffic to the relatively small Congress Park.
Gilmore said city inspectors conducted noise readings at 19 homes near the Congress Park pickleball courts, and found levels above the city’s 55 decibel limit at 16 of them.
“That’s not a very large park. It’s a neighborhood park,” Gilmore said. “It’s overwhelming the park and the neighborhood. Between the issues with pickleballers and others — just parking in the neighborhood. People can’t park in the neighborhood. They can’t get out of their driveways.”
Gilmore said there are no plans currently to close other pickleball courts in Denver, but the city will have to “look at them case by case” if use increases to the point that it causes similar issues in each respective neighborhood.
“My goal is to make sure that these spaces work for everybody, not just one user group,” Gilmore said.
Pickleball as a sport isn’t new, but it’s popularity has exploded since the pandemic. The Association of Pickleball Professionals estimates there were 36.5 million players in the United States in 2022.
“What bigger trend have we seen than the pet rock and pickleball? Like, this is a massive trend,” laughed Marc Nelson, a pickleball player who frequented Congress Park. “And it’s going to continue to grow because it’s easy to learn, fun to play, and you have a community.”
Nelson has volunteered to serve on a “pickleball advisory committee” with the city in order to navigate the sport’s growing popularity and the issues it can create. He said he is disappointed the decision was made to close the Congress Park courts before the committee was able to offer some alternatives that would have allowed play to continue there.
“I know [the city] measured the sound, and it’s very loud right next to the houses. But can we just put up temporary fences and acoustic sound and see what the measure would have been?” Nelson said. “This means so much to so many people, so I just wish we could have tried it.”
Several Congress Park regulars made their way to the four courts at Martin Luther King Park to play Monday, not missing a day, even as their home courts closed.
The city hopes this points to a lasting solution: the construction of a large complex, perhaps at Burns Park, that would provide ample space for pickleball away from homes. This suggestion was met with skepticism from players, saying such a complex would be years away — if it is built at all. In addition, they added, it could exclude their pickleball pals who don’t have cars.
“I met a community of people [at Congress Park] that don’t drive,” said Natalie Hughes. “They walk. They bike. They don’t own cars, and they can’t — they’re in assisted living situations. And taking away those parks means taking away their mental, social, and physical wellness every single day… I just want to speak with the people that do have a problem with it. We want to meet in the middle.”