South Cowichan Recreation manager Kim Liddle and South Cowichan Pickleball Club executive members Laurie Vasey, Rick Hollingworth and Brian Johnson stand on the future site of the Kerry Park pickleball courts. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

South Cowichan serves up pickleball courts

Provincial grant will cover entire cost of new facilities

A grant from the provincial government will completely cover the cost of the Cowichan Valley’s first pickleball-specific venue, coming to the Kerry Park Recreation Centre in the near future.

The $550,000 price tag for the pickleball courts and related infrastructure is taken care of by the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program, a $100-million program providing grants for economic resilience, tourism, heritage and urban and rural development initiatives across the province.

The South Cowichan Pickleball Club has been pushing for a facility since October 2018, so South Cowichan Recreation took a chance on applying for the new provincial fund, and it came through.

The new additions will include six new pickleball courts, a gravel parking lot, a structure with washrooms and changing rooms, a picnic area and a perimeter trail around the grounds that will connect with the Shawnigan Creek nature trail. The courts will be located at the north end of the Kerry Park complex, close to the tennis courts, and tennis players will be able to use the parking lot and washrooms as well.

According to Rick Hollingworth, part of the three-person executive that leads the South Cowichan Pickleball Club, there aren’t many places to play pickleball in South Cowichan. There are 18 courts, he said, between Fuller Lake, Maple Bay, Crofton and Lake Cowichan, all on converted tennis courts. A tennis court can be adapted into three or four pickleball courts, but the problem is that there are no unused tennis courts in South Cowichan.

Until now, they have made do with temporary pickleball nets on tennis courts, and indoor courts at the Kerry Park curling rink during the off-season, but players longed for something more permanent.

“We have been, over the last three or four years, looking at every piece of asphalt for some place to play,” Hollingworth said.

Kerry Park was identified as the best location if new courts could be built. It is central, has flat ground, is accessible by public transit, and there are washrooms and concessions in the arena building. The club ran that possibility by the Kerry Park Recreation Commission, to a positive reception. The grant application was submitted in November.

“We thought it was a longshot, but I guess we ticked the right boxes,” Hollingworth said. “When it was approved, it was far better than we ever expected.”

Unlike the other courts in the Cowichan Valley, the new ones at Kerry Park are being built specifically for pickleball. Work on the design has already started, and the contract should be out for tender in June. Under the terms of the grant, construction will have to begin by the end of 2021.

Kim Liddle, manager of South Cowichan Recreation and staff liaison with the Kerry Park Recreation Commission, is looking forward to adding the courts to the Kerry Park site. The sport has been growing in popularity, as has the community, and there has been “a lot of pressure” to build or convert facilities. The courts will be beneficial to the whole community, she said.

“We’re excited to hold tournaments once we’re able,” she said. “That will bring in tourism dollars for the community.”

Liddle noted that the property on which the arena and the rest of the Kerry Park complex sits is owned by Mill Bay Community League, on a long-term lease to the CVRD.

“We have a longstanding partnership to develop recreation opportunities in the community,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t be able to without their support.”

Cowichan Valley Citizen