By Hank Lohmeyer
Published Wednesday, September 7, 2016 9:32 am
Photos by Hank Lohmeyer The Grand Mesa Picklers have been behind a successful project to set up the Cedaredge Town Park tennis courts for use by up to 16 pickleball players at one time, doubling the recreational benefit of the facility.
The Grand Mesa Picklers is a growing circle of local friends and newcomers who quickly become friends. They share their enthusiasm for quality of life, for physical fitness activity, and for playing together on a regular basis.
The group has raised money to create a local play space for themselves, and their efforts have resulted in a success story that is yielding benefits to themselves and to the community.
"The Picklers are very proud of what they have accomplished in less than a year," said Jude Kieca who with her husband, Marv, are two of the 30-plus members of the Grand Mesa Picklers, as they are known officially.
The Grand Mesa Picklers can be found every week during good weather on the Cedaredge Town Park tennis/pickleball courts playing their favorite sport -- pickleball. Players are free to come, go or stay at their pleasure over the course of three hours or so of activity.
Their scheduled days for play are Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 8 a.m., explained Judy Weaver, a Pickler who does lots of organization and communication for the group that keeps everyone in touch and in step with activities.
Many Picklers took up the game playing in the Bill Heddles Recreation Center program. They still play there when weather forces play indoors. But having pickleball courts available in town is a convenience that provides the opportunity for developing a local circle of players. Some Picklers are considered high skill level and have competed and won in tournament play.
The game is a fast and fun activity modeled on tennis. It provides competitive play and social interaction. Its half-sized court requires less exhausting activity and more invigorating aerobic-type exercise, players say.
In the process of getting the group organized over the past year, a concern was expressed that big numbers of pickleball players might compete with tennis players for play time on the town tennis courts. Picklers took up the issue with a positive focus, Kieca notes. They arrived at a friendly consensus with tennis players for court use that also respects time for the high school tennis program. They took up collections among themselves, held a big fundraiser, and worked with the town on needed court improvements. And Weaver explains they contributed $1,200 for the cost of adding permanent court striping for their games. They also paid for the specialized equipment, such as nets, saving the town the cost of boosting pickleball among the suite of local recreational activities.
The Picklers celebrated a one-year anniversary of their group last month with a session of play followed by a potluck luncheon. One of the group's major benefits to the community has been to take an underutilized recreational facility (the Cedaredge tennis courts) and multiply its value and benefit to local residents many times over.
A regulation tennis court will accommodate four pickleball courts. The town's newly combined tennis/pickleball courts will now accommodate four pickleball courts and up to 16 players at one time. That doubles the courts' recreational capacity.
Kieca said the group is especially proud of its success at working with the town and tennis folks and getting the tennis courts striped for pickleball.
In addition to the personal, social and community benefits the local grassroots pickleball movement has brought to the valley, the group can also lay claim to bringing an economic development benefit as well. Pickleball has been a fast growing sport in America. Weaver says there are thousands of local pickleball groups, many of them members of the USA Pickleball Association which the Picklers are considering joining, too.
With such an active and large community of players, there are many who travel the country. Picklers who travel elsewhere say they never have a problem finding a group where they are welcome to join in and play to their heart's content. Some larger cities provide dozens of pickleball courts for players.
Conversely, other people visiting this area are finding the Picklers as a welcoming group to pursue their favorite activity. For example, on one recent Saturday a new player found his way to the Town Park courts. His name was Lou, and he was visiting the area from Tampa, Fla. His sister in Hotchkiss had told him about the local group, so soon his vehicle with Florida license plates joined others from Texas and Arizona parked on Main Street while Lou made new friends and got some exercise.
On a recent Saturday as the Picklers traded backhand volleys and forehand smashes on the Town Park courts, a pickup truck loaded up with river rafts and associated gear drove by and slowed to a stop watching all the action. It may be that as the river running season comes to an end, the Picklers will find they have attracted some new players to the game.
Everyone is welcome. Just stop by. They'll even lend you a paddle to play with.