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A tennis court at Glebe Road Park was restriped for pickleball (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

More pickleball courts are likely coming to Arlington as local players urge the county to provide more support.

Last week, County Board member Libby Garvey and Nakish Jordan from Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation paid a visit to the outdoor pickleball courts at Walter Reed Park, near the community center. They were there to talk about what the county was doing to create more courts for a sport that continues to grow in popularity.

That includes striping more courts and potentially building dedicated outdoor pickleball courts at Walter Reed Park.

Today (July 18), the County Board is set to vote on a new Capital Improvement Plan that includes $2 million for more pickleball courts. If the plan is approved, several tennis courts at Walter Reed Park would be converted into dedicated pickleball courts, Jordan told players.

“This is central county. Lots of people come out. There’s plenty of parking [here],” Jordan said about why this was a good spot for more courts. “And there are bathrooms here.”

Even if the plan gets approved today by the County Board, though, it could take a couple of years before new courts are built.

Voters would need to pass a bond referendum in November and, then, community engagement would happen early next year, DPR spokesperson Susan Kalish told ARLnow in an email. After that, design and permitting could happen mid to late next year. Finally, construction could begin in late 2023 and be completed sometime in the summer of 2024.

The timeframe for restriping a number of existing tennis and basketball courts for multi-use so that pickleball could be played on them as well is a bit quicker. Kalish noted that could be done by next spring, provided the CIP and bond referendum both get passed.

In total, the CIP dedicates $2 million to pickleball projects, including the Walter Reed Park courts and the restriping project.

Despite these assurances about the future, a number of players expressed their annoyance to the county officials about a lack of courts amid burgeoning demand. The courts are often filled to capacity, several people said, leaving players with long waits for their turn to put paddle to ball.

“We need more pickleball lines on under-used tennis courts,” said a resident. “While [the Walter Reed Park courts] are being renovated, we will need other places to play.”

Garvey noted that there isn’t only so much court space in the county. Despite pickleball’s growth, players need to share the space with other sports, she said.

“We need to keep in mind everyone who needs things… as a County Board member, I need to think about everybody,” Garvey said. “Even the people who aren’t here and we don’t hear from — [we need to] make sure we are serving them as well. We are going have to find a way to co-exist.”

There are currently 11 indoor and 20 outdoor multi-use courts where pickleball can be played in the county.

However, one popular court at Glebe Road Park has been shut down over the summer due to the sound the ball makes when it hits the paddle drawing complaints from neighbors.

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Morning Notes

Deer in a local neighborhood (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

Memorial Day Closures — County offices and facilities like libraries and community centers will be closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. Metered parking will not be enforced. But trash collection will continue as normal. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Tree Group Opposes ‘Missing Middle’ — “A tree-advocacy group believes proposed changes to Arlington housing policy could have a cataclysmic impact on existing tree canopy in the community. ‘Tell the county ‘no’ – do not enact policies that further reduce our tree canopy,’ the Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG) said May 20 in response to a county-government proposal on possible zoning changes.” [Sun Gazette]

Chamber Supports New Ballston Metro Entrance — “I am writing to express our strong support for full Authority funding of Arlington County’s $80 million application for the Ballston-MU Metrorail Station West Entrance. This project is a critical improvement to the regional transit network and supports the Authority’s programming goals of modal and geographic balance… As we move forward, its construction will be very important to the success of businesses in Arlington.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

W-L’s Royal Rowing History — “In the spring of 1958, under the guidance of head coach Charlie Butt, a group of teenage rowers from Washington-Lee High School (now Washington-Liberty) performed so well at stateside races that they earned a spot at the Henley Royal Regatta in England–becoming the first public high school in America invited to the iconic race, which dates to 1839. But first, they needed money.” [Arlington Magazine]

County Now Offering Boosters for Kids — “After federal approvals, Arlington County and other providers are offering the COVID-19 vaccine booster to children aged 5 to 11.” [Patch]

County Polling About Pickleball — “As Arlington’s population continues to grow and sports trends change, the Department of Parks and Recreation recognizes there has been a shift in the use and demand for outdoor athletic courts. Our Outdoor Athletic Court Project includes creating criteria to identify existing courts that are candidates for permanent pickleball lines as well as identify an existing amenity to convert into a permanent pickleball facility.” [Arlington County]

Storms Possible Tomorrow — From the National Weather Service: “We’ll stay mostly dry and cloudy for the remainder of today with highs in the 60s across the area. We are monitoring the potential for an unsettled start to the long holiday weekend this Friday with severe storm/flood threats.” [Twitter]

It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 71 and low of 60. Sunrise at 5:49 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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Arlington County staff present the details of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $3.9 billion CIP for 2023-32 (via Arlington County)

From a new Columbia Pike library to a dedicated pickleball court, County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed 10-year $3.9 billion capital improvement plan would fund projects across Arlington.

The first 10-year plan for capital projects in four years would budget for infrastructure projects between 2023 and 2032. The CIP proposal, slated for adoption in July, is a 40% increase from the plan approved four years ago, Schwartz said in his presentation to the County Board Tuesday.

“This CIP proposal aims to address current and future capital needs in Arlington County as we emerge from the financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We want to focus on key planned investments in addition to following through on commitments from prior plans to benefit county residents and businesses long-term.”

Stormwater projects would receive $331.3 million in funding, including $77 million for Spout Run, $14.7 million for Torreyson Run, $28.5 million for Crossman Run and $49.5 million for Lubber Run — all flood mitigation efforts. Streams and water quality funding is proposed at $52.1 million and maintenance at $50.2 million.

A slideshow outlining what Arlington’s investment in environmental goals looks like in the 2023-32 CIP (via Arlington County)

While Metro remains one of the largest investments in the CIP, at $356.4 million, the proposal also outlines $1.8 billion in non-Metro transportation funding. This includes $16 million for Vision Zero street safety improvements program, $64 million for bridge replacements and renovations, and $89 million for bike and walk programs.

Other highlights include:

The proposed CIP includes new park programs that focus on emerging needs and natural resiliency, a new fire station on the west end of Columbia Pike, and facilities consolidation to enable remote work for county staff.

Schwartz said the needs of the county have changed since the last 10-year CIP, as the county is in “a world shaped by the pandemic where we do our business differently.”

Michelle Cowan, deputy county manager overseeing the Department of Management and Finance, noted during the presentation that the finance department works entirely remotely now, potentially a harbinger of a money-saving reduction in the county’s office footprint.

“We have reduced our footprint which… allows us then to do some really strategic consolidations that you’ll hear about in other county buildings that could get us out of some aging assets,” Cowan said.

The CIP will continue to fund debt service obligations for the investment in housing at Barcroft Apartments, construction of Fire Station 8, which is scheduled to be completed in fall 2023, and the design and planning process for the proposed Arlington boathouse.

Preliminary construction funding for the lower boathouse site is included in the later years of the CIP.

This CIP returns funding levels for the Arlington Neighborhoods Program, formerly the Neighborhood Conservation Program, which are projects identified by individual neighborhoods and include street improvements, streetlights, parks, beautification and sidewalks. The program had steep cuts in previous CIPs.

The 2023-32 CIP proposal would provide $85.2 million in funding to the program. That includes $4 million of funding for projects in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, and would increase to $9 million in 2030 and 2031, Director of Management and Finance Maria Meredith said.

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) The loud pop sound produced by a pickleball hitting a paddle has led to the closing of a popular court at Glebe Road Park.

A new pilot program that began last month at the North Arlington park is temporarily closing a stand-alone outdoor pickleball court through the majority of the spring and summer.

As a replacement, the tennis court next to it is now striped to create two additional pickleball courts. With the change, there are now two lighted multi-purpose tennis/pickleball courts and one lighted tennis court at Glebe Road Park. The park’s hours also have been adjusted, with the lights now shutting off at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

The reason for these changes is that the pop of pickleball — an increasingly popular sport — is bothersome some nearby neighbors in the Old Glebe community.

“One of the issues with pickleball is complaints of the popping noise the paddle makes when it hits the ball,” Martha Holland, a spokesperson for the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation, tells ARLnow. “These concerns are not unique to Arlington but are prevalent in many communities nationwide. Many jurisdictions are grappling with finding the balance [given] the growth in pickleball.”

“These concerns were present before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holland added. “However, the increase in play on the dedicated pickleball court at Glebe Road Park during COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation.”

The pilot program is set to run until September 6 and, at that point, the county will determine next steps.

“We will be checking in with the community (neighbors and court users) a couple times during the pilot to get feedback,” Holland wrote. “We hope to mitigate the sound issues by moving pickleball to the tennis courts.”

It’s no secret that pickleball’s popularity has surged over the last two years, due in part to it being a relatively low-impact social sport that allows players to stay within a relatively safe distance from one another.

This has, in turn led Arlington County to increase the number of courts available for pickleball.

But it also has caused some challenges. For one, there’s a limited number of available court space in the county. Back in November, county officials expressed some frustration that pickleball players were going rogue and unilaterally marking off pickleball boundaries on existing tennis and basketball courts.

At Glebe Road Park, the re-striping of a tennis court for pickleball hasn’t sat well with everyone vying for a share of that prime concrete real estate.

Helen White, part of the Arlington Pickleball Club‘s leadership team, says she’s heard from members that they’ve been “bullied” by tennis players when using the courts.

There is a county-run reservation system, allowing residents to book one of the tennis courts in 60 or 90 minute increments at $10 an hour. However, with many spots open, it’s unclear how much the system is actually utilized.

Then, there’s the noise of ball meeting paddle.

It was a single household that first brought a noise concerns to the county’s attention in August 2020, Arlington’s Director of Constituent Services Ben Aiken confirms to ARLnow. As time went on, though, more households complained to the county about the popping noise, Aiken says.

There was even talk of a petition, supposedly signed by about 20 households all living near the park on N. Old Glebe Road, though Aiken tells ARLnow that he has yet to receive a formal petition and is not aware of one circulating in the community.

ARLnow attempted to reach out to the homeowner who initially complained to the county, but they declined to speak for this story.

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Arlington’s parks department is identifying tennis and basketball courts that could also accommodate the increasingly popular sport of pickleball.

The department is surveying residents to gauge court usage and the need for pickleball courts, and see where they think pickleball lines can be added. The Department of Parks and Recreation currently maintains 18 multi-use courts that allow pickleball and 1 single-use pickleball court.

But that’s not enough to meet the demand.

“Arlington has seen a significant growth in pickleball with increase in requests for single-use and multi-use courts,” DPR Associate Planner and Project Manager Bethany Heim said in a presentation. “While Arlington has 19 outdoor pickleball courts, players are using tape or chalk to create more pickleball courts on existing tennis and basketball courts.”

More and more Arlingtonians have picked up pickleball, especially during the pandemic. The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center in Virginia Square repainted three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts earlier this year, and one local player says membership in the local Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia has surged.

Noted local ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has also taken up the sport, and the parks department now offers pickleball classes for all ages and abilities.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is played on a court that is smaller than a tennis court, using a modified tennis net, Heim said. It sometimes brings upwards of 40-50 players to a court at one time.

DPR has relied on adding pickleball lines to existing courts, and that’s still the plan in the short term. Arlington has 87 full tennis courts and five half-courts, as well as 76 full basketball courts and 12 half-courts — some allow pickleball, volleyball and futsal, a soccer-like game played on a hard court.

“A growing trend in parks is to have a multi-use facilities so that a wider variety of activities can be enjoyed at one place,” Heim said. “The [Public Spaces Master Plan] references… using multi-use courts to accommodate the growing interest in pickleball.”

The department striped its first tennis court to allow pickleball in 2015, and in 2017 it piloted a basketball-pickleball court at Walter Reed Community Center. Today, there are multi-use courts at Glebe Road Park, Gunston Park, Fort Scott Park, Lubber Run Park and Walter Reed.

Eventually, the Public Spaces Master Plan recommends establishing a dedicated pickleball facility to meet the demand.

“While multi-use courts are effective, Arlington does not have a dedicated pickleball facility with more than one court,” Heim said.

The survey is open through Friday, Nov. 19. DPR plans to use the information to determine how to make sure the changes are done equitably and to identify potential conflicts with making single-use courts multi use.

After the survey closes, DPR will develop draft criteria for converting single-use courts to multi-use courts and identify eligible sites. There will be another public engagement opportunity in January. Finalized criteria and a list of identified sites will later be published online.

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Michael Wardian walks off the pickleball court at the Lubber Run Community Center, paddle in hand, proclaiming, “well, we just got trounced.”

The record-setting, headline-making, age-defying ultramarathoner from Arlington has taken up one of the region’s fastest growing sports and, despite his recent loss, he’s getting pretty good at it.

“I’m super into it. I just won my first tournament last weekend,” Wardian says, taking a breather from playing and a sporting a pink T-Mobile shirt and hat.

The 47-year-old Wardian is probably most well-known to area residents for his running feats, including completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, running more than 260 miles in a loop around the Arlington Forest neighborhood, and winning the inaugural Marine Corps 50k in 2019.

But now, he’s on to pickleball.

“There’s a sense of newness and beginning something [with pickleball],” Wardian says. “With running, if I want to do something I haven’t done before, I’ve got to do…something pretty huge to have some freshness. It’s fun to be a newbie at something.”

He only started playing the sport a few months ago, in May, when a friend asked him to join a game while in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He ran out to Walmart, grabbed a paddle, and played five games.

“And I just fell in love with it,” Wardian says. “I was like, ‘man, this is like the coolest sport ever.’ I thought it was an old person’s sport.”

While it’s true that pickleball began as a preferred sport for older adults due to its low-impact on joints, it has since grown in popularity with younger adults and, even, kids. There are now more than four million players nationwide, according to the USA Pickleball Association. That number includes Wardian.

“I had no idea how much skill was involved or how addictive it could be,” he says.

While there isn’t complete overlap, Wardian’s ultramarathon skill set has come in handy on the pickleball court. His discipline, endurance, and tall stature all have come in handy.

“I cover a lot of ground,” Wardian says. “I can get to almost any ball. I’m tall and long, so I have good reach.”

One of the pickleball skills he’s working on is controlling his shots and not hammering the ball so hard so it goes out of bounds.

But he’s learning quickly. He estimates he’s invested about 150 hours into the sport so far and is already doing well in tournaments. In fact, Wardian is considering becoming a pro pickleball player. The top players can make tens of thousands of dollars in winnings, not to mention sponsorship dollars.

Because of his running, Wardian has sponsorship deals with local businesses District Taco, Pacers, and MedStar Health as well as T-Mobile (hence, the shirt and hat). Now, he’s looking to get some for his pickleball prowess and is speaking with online retailer Pickleball Clearance about opportunities. He’s also hoping to become an ambassador for the sport through the US Pickleball Association.

“I just want to grow the audience and get more people excited about the sport,” he says.

Pickleball hasn’t been the only thing filling Wardian’s time in recent months. He’s also an owner and partner of Potomac Maritime, working with carriers and ships carrying humanitarian aid and food cargo, which is his main source of income.

Additionally, he’s been visiting volcanoes and playing chess, which he’s been doing since he was eight years old.

Unsurprisingly, Wardian is good at chess too and plays in chess tournaments. He’s also part of several clubs (including the Arlington Chess Club), and coaches the game to younger players.

At one point, he compares chess to pickleball, saying both are about placement, strategy, and knocking the opponent off balance.

“You set up your shot,” he says. “You hit one shot to knock them back and, then, when they’re back, you can put the ball somewhere else.”

For Wardian, no matter what he’s competing in, he is always striving to be at a high level. There is a sharp competitive edge to it all, but his hardest opponent is himself.

“I like seeing what’s possible,” he says. “I like challenging myself.”

When asked what’s the next sport or activity for him to master, he rattles off cycling, surfing, open water swimming, and deep sea fishing. It’s clear he’s already thought about the future.

After talking and a few photos, he heads back to the pickleball court. An average game of pickleball takes about 20 to 25 minutes, but he’s still harping on the last game he played that lasted only about ten minutes.

“We got our asses kicked,” Wardian says. “But we will get the next one.”

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Arlington’s pickleball players, eager to see the sport grow, will soon have more courts to play on.

The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center, at 3400 13th Street N. in the Virginia Square area, is repainting three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts. This change is part of an effort to meet the growing demand for facilities as the sport gains popularity.

“In the D.C. region, pickleball is exploding,” said Carlo Impeduglia, Associate Director of Racquets at the Y in Arlington.

He attributes the local and nationwide surge in interest in pickleball and other racquet sports to people searching for social sports where players can stay distanced during the pandemic.

The new courts at the Y facility will feature blended lines and changeable nets so players can choose either tennis or pickleball, Impeduglia said. Currently, the tennis courts have pickleball lines taped on.

Members will be able to reserve courts and participate in drop-in play, instructional clinics, socials and special events, he said. More permanent courts could be added in the future, too.

The changes come as the YMCA (3422 13th Street N.) seeks to upgrade its facilities in Arlington, replacing the Y as well as tennis and squash center with a seven-story tall apartment building and three-story tall facility that has a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts.

At the regional level, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is jumping on the craze and opening pickleball courts throughout the D.C. area. Other new courts can be found at the Y’s locations in Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.

“The response to pickleball has been overwhelming by our membership,” said Pamela Curran, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “Pickleball is the perfect pandemic sport since people can still socially distance and get great exercise both outdoors and indoors at an extremely affordable price.”

Adrie Custer, the moderator of the Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia, said she has also seen a surge in interest. The group was founded in 2016 and today has more than 430 members — but nearly 200 of those members joined in the last year, she said.

“Once someone actually plays pickleball, they are hooked,” she said. “We expect our numbers to keep climbing. I believe it’s true that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. It is a game that can be played enjoyably at many skill levels and by people of all ages.”

Players typically are 50 years of age and older, but Impeduglia said he has seen and heard of kids as young as 4 and seniors as old as 90 hitting the courts.

“It’s really all ages, all levels,” he said. “The sport has no boundaries.”

Nationally, the sport grew 21.3% to 4.2 million players in 2020, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

Arlington County Parks and Recreation provides indoor as well as outdoor courts for the sport, and classes are available for young players, too.

The county has added pickleball lines to multiple courts over the last few years and noticed an increase in overall use in parks amid the pandemic.

“The pandemic has not seemed to slow its growth,” county parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said of the sport. “It’s definitely popular in Arlington and the region in general.”

Photo via Lauren Bryan/Flickr

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