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Pickleball at America's National Parks

Why don’t national parks have pickleball courts? What pickleball options do I have?

TUNDRA NEWS COLLEGIATE CONTRIBUTOR: ELLIOT ROTHSTEIN
June 04 2024

As Americans enjoyed their extended Memorial Day weekend, many made visits to our country’s esteemed national parks. Of course, many also took the opportunity to squeeze in some extra pickleball drilling, making sure not to let any beautiful summer pickleball-able days go to waste. These two favorite US pastimes, one long-standing and one still-on-the-rise, together offer an interesting possibility: playing pickleball at the national parks. 

Now, the National Park system was established in the first place with intentions of preserving the natural health and beauty of landmark locations around the country. As settlements expanded westward in the 1800s, a significant segment of the public grew concerned for the Native American civilizations and wildlife being systematically encroached upon and overrun. George Catlin, the artist and humanitarian-environmentalist credited with the idea of a National Park system, advocated in 1833 for the merit in protecting “a nation’s Park containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!” Maintaining that the implementation of pickleball courts in these parks would align with this goal would, well, be a pretty tough sell. In fact, laying down any sort of asphalt or concrete (the surfaces typically used to pave pickleball courts) would outright violate the purpose of the national parks. There are pickleball courts popping up everywhere–seemingly at every NON-national park. Is it really necessary to breach the natural integrity of the remaining protected four-hundred-some for the sake of pickleball?

Above: Artist George Catlin     SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

The national parks don’t seem to think so, as a pickleball court has yet to be implemented directly amidst a park’s nature . This isn’t any shot at pickleball–again, the point of establishing an area as a “national park” is to prevent any human interference with said area, so tennis courts, basketball courts, and disc golf courses too are no-gos. With that said, prospective pickleball-facility-constructors are not blind to the added draw of exploration at the national parks. Several of the most popular national parks have seen recent pickleball-BOOMs in communities nearby, giving the public the privilege of enjoying their favorite sport, but with iconic, scenic backgrounds to boot.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon was officially protected as a national park in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, but the importance of protecting the land had been stressed long before. President Benjamin Harrison renamed the canyon in 1893 as Grand Canyon Forest Preserve, and President Theodore Roosevelt had designated it as a national monument in 1908. Today, the park brings more than six million tourists annually to the state of Arizona. But where does pickleball fit in? Well, you dinking fiend, I’ll tell you.

While the Grand Canyon has been an Arizona hotspot for over a century, the state has seen a new attraction garner the craze of Americans with too much time on their hands: pickleball. The round-the-clock warm weather that contributes to the Grand Canyon’s allure as a tourist destination plays similarly for the rising pickleball scene, allowing Arizonians consistently proper pickleball conditions no matter the time of year, and bringing in cold-staters looking to quell their pickleballing fix. 

The economic opportunity of Arizona pickleball hasn’t been lost on those within the community-development and hospitality industries, either. The Sedona Pickleball Club was founded in 2014, but has seen a surge of growth in the last five years (as have most pickleball facilities) and the club has expanded accordingly. The club offers a variety of pickleball-drilling clinics and organized events, many of which are held with a stunning Grand Canyon backdrop.

Above: Sedona pickleball courts with a Grand Canyon view.    SOURCE: SUNSET

Pickleballers only have more to be excited about in Sedona, Arizona. The Sedona City Council just recently approved an almost $1.6 million contract to put in eight new courts at Posse Grounds Park, with a planned completion date sometime in September 2024.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While the famous song goes “On top of Old Smooookyyy, All covered in snowww,” we all know the singer behind it, Cecil Sharp, intended for the line to be “...All covered in pickleball courtsss” – incredible forethought considering the song was written during WWI in the BP (Before Pickleball) years. Seriously, though, Gatlinberg, Tennessee has fully embraced the pickleball rise, and was well-equipped to do so. The Smoky Mountain Pickleball Club has been around since 2013, and as the sport saw massive growth post-pandemic, the Gatlinberg Pickleball Association was right there to help satisfy it. The community surrounding the national park even has a dedicated and very active Facebook group  – “Pickleball of the Smokies” – where new tournaments and drop-in events are posted regularly. 

Above: Annual Spring Tournament at the Smoky Mountain Pickleball Club     SOURCE: THEDAILYTIMES

The Smoky Mountains have a deep and rich history. The name itself comes from the Cherokee people who’d inhabited the land in the 18th century, as they’d titled it “Shaconage” (Shah-con-ah-jey) or “place of the blue smoke.” Eventually, European settlers of the time did their thing, forcing out the native people, clearing land, and detaching it from its natural beauty in the name of Manifest Destiny. At some point, though, it seems the public recognized that said natural beauty was actually something worth conserving, leading President Calvin Coolidge to sign a bill establishing it as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in 1926.

A hypothetical to consider: Pickleball in the National Mall?

The National Mall in Washington D.C., home to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, was placed under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1965, thus denominating it as a national park. However, the National Mall is unique from every other national park in that it came to be unnaturally—the Mall was blueprinted and constructed by humans. While other national parks were designated so to preserve their natural beauty, the Mall was designated so because of it’s historical and cultural significance — Americans of the time (and likely ever since) wanted the area taken care of as best as possible, and giving it “national park” status was a logical way to do so. However, this doesn’t mean the land can’t be built on. The natural integrity of the land has long been destroyed. Why not throw a pickleball court down? 

What do you think, reader? Should the Mall be made an exception to the no-pickleball-at-national-parks rule?

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