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Pickleball courts are in high demand in Olympia, officials say. But what about the neighbors?

If you live in Washington, you might be familiar with the high-pitched “pop” of a pickleball hitting a paddle. The sport originated here nearly 60 years ago, and its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.

Parks officials in Olympia recognize pickleball as one of the fastest-growing sports in the region, and demand for more places to play is high. The request for more courts was one of the most common in the department’s 2022-2028 plan.

Parks Planner Sarah Giannobile said some tennis courts around the city will be repainted and pickleball court lines will be added. And there are plans for a dozen pickleball-specific courts in the future.

But the growth in courts could result in a growth in complaints.

Giannobile gave a briefing to the Parks, Arts and Recreation Advisory Committee in May regarding pickleball noise guidelines and where more courts could go. She said noise complaints have risen in some cities along with the rise in popularity of the sport. City officials will have to find ways to bring more recreation opportunities to Olympia while keeping noise levels at a reasonable level.

The staff report says some cities have closed courts because of noise while others have designed strategies to reduce noise levels to help keep existing courts open. And many cities have created guidelines for locating future courts.

Where are the pickleball courts?

The Thurston County Pickleball Club has a map of locations throughout the county where people can play. They include The Olympia Center, Woodruff Park, Stevens Field, and the Briggs YMCA in Olympia.

Giannobile said there are plans to repaint some of the tennis courts in Olympia parks and add pickleball court lines to them as well. She said Stevens Field already has both because it has a lot of demand and a lot of pickleball players use them.

Court courtesy signage is being added to those parks to encourage people to share and limit their time on the courts.

She said they considered adding pickleball lines to the courts at LBA Park and Lions Park, but they’re directly adjacent to homes. They’re sticking with tennis courts to avoid any noise issues.

Giannobile said the reason Stevens Field works for pickleball is because the courts are above the freeway and there’s considerable distance between them and residences. And there are baseball fields nearby, which generate more noise.

There are also plans to construct 12 pickleball courts at the Yelm Highway Community Park, which Giannobile said was labeled high priority for where to invest pickleball dollars.

“That was something we heard from the community where they wanted opportunities for a tournament-type area, which 12 courts is ideal for that,” Giannobile said.

She said those pickleball courts would be placed adjacent to Yelm Highway, which would mitigate the noise that comes from pickleball courts. But they likely won’t be open until late 2026.

Pickleball courts might also be constructed at a future neighborhood park on Lilly Road.

Mitigating noise concerns

Giannobile said the city hasn’t received any formal noise complaints through Code Enforcement regarding pickleball. But the Parks Department has received a number of complaints from Woothdruff Park area residents.

There are four pickleball courts there, and some residents have complained about the hours people were playing.

“People were playing quite early in the morning, 6 a.m. or so, especially in the summer when it was light,” Giannobile said. “So we did put some hour restrictions on there to help mitigate that, and that seems like it’s taken care of those concerns.”

Giannobile said most residential neighborhoods have a noise limit of 50 decibels. Pickleball has a decibel range of 70 to 90, which is nearly the same as baseball.

Giannobile said the most preferred sound mitigation measure is distance, keeping the courts as far away from residential areas as possible while keeping them highly accessible.

The next preferred method would be some sort of sound barriers, absorbers or reflectors. It can be as simple as screens on the fencing of pickleball courts, which can reduce decibel levels by 10 points.

Screens on court fences like these at Woodruff Park can reduce the noise leaving a pickleball court.
Screens on court fences like these at Woodruff Park can reduce the noise leaving a pickleball court.

Pickleball players can also invest in what Giannobile said are quiet products. There are different balls and paddles that absorb sound more and alleviate the pinging sound of a successful hit. But it’s hard to regulate what people play with.

“People have seemed resistant to jumping onto that, because it does seem like it affects play in a way that they don’t like or aren’t used to,” she said. “There’ll be no way to regulate it.”

She said those products can also be more expensive compared to standard balls and paddles.

Cities can also construct concrete walls and earth berms to reduce noise, but Giannobile said those are large projects that require large amounts of money.