HERMITAGE — When Julie Norris wants to play pickleball, her options are limited.
Pickleball is a sport similar to tennis but with shorter courts, different racquets and a different style of play style. The director of arts and communications at Buhl Park normally plays for a few hours at the Buhl Club’s gym with a group of 20 to 30 people.
“Most of them have to drive to the Cortland or Niles area in Ohio if they want to play on an actual pickleball court,” Norris said. “They all say ‘we ought to have a court around here.’”
Bringing pickleball courts to the Mercer County area will now be possible with Thursday’s announcement that Buhl Park was selected by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to receive a $106,000 grant. The grant money will be used for the construction of six asphalt outdoor pickleball courts with fencing, according to a press release.
“Buhl Park is an outdoor gem for our citizens and a gathering place for fishing, bicycling, walking, running, exploring nature and enjoying disc golf,” state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7th, Hermitage, said in the release. “This grant will allow us to add yet another recreational activity to the mix — one that has been shown to improve muscular strength, endurance and cardiovascular heath.”
Work on securing the grant money from DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnership Program began in late spring after people in the community repeatedly expressed an interest to both the park and the City of Hermitage, Buhl Park’s Director of Development Mary Lynn Reid said. Though the sport has grown in popularity over the years, there were no local courts specifically for playing pickleball.
“To secure the grant money, the park had to be able to match the amount,” Reid said. “We had a group of people who came forward and said they were willing to donate toward the project, so thanks to them we were able to apply for the grant.”
The pickleball courts will be in two rows of three near the First Tee building at Buhl Park’s driving range off Forker Boulevard. The courts are designed to have fencing around them, but any golf balls will be hit northward and away from the courts anyway, Reid said.
“Because the First Tee is here, the courts will have access to nearby bathrooms, and there will be vending machines here as well,” Reid said.
The grant money is not expected to be released until later this year, so Reid said work on the pickleball courts would probably begin next spring depending on how the weather cooperates.
Once the courts are completed, Norris said she expects pickleball will become a popular activity for Buhl Park’s patrons and local residents regardless of age.
“There’s less running around than on a tennis court and you’re not raising your arms as much, so you can play with kids, parents and older people,” Norris said. “It’s fun without being too competitive, and you can still get some exercise in.”
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