Local pickleball players held a mock-pickleball game as a "noise demonstration" in Old City Park. [Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

Pickleball is not a quiet sport, but, local enthusiasts say, it’s not a racket either.

Pickleball is like tennis, if tennis were on a smaller court and played with a whiffle-ball-like plastic ball and wooden paddles. The noise of the game comes from the sound of the ball hitting the paddles and from the jubilant, or frustrated, shouts from players.

During a pickleball “noise demonstration” on February 15, Patrick Trim, the sports director at the City of Moab, said the official decibel measurement of the game from 45 feet away was 51 decibels. That’s about equivalent to a household refrigerator.

At 25 feet away, the game measured 61 decibels, equivalent to standing near a washing machine. It’s a bit louder than tennis, but quieter than tennis played indoors; the demonstration was set up with multiple pickleball players playing with four balls.

The city held two of these noise demonstrations last week to help decide where new pickleball courts should be built in Moab. A year ago, the parks and recreation department received a grant for new courts that came with two notable requirements: first, the courts must be built on Moab city property, and second, they would have to be permanent. The city planned to build four courts, which Rick Davidson, a local pickleball player, said would take up an area of 120 feet by 80 feet; the surface that pickleball courts use is similar to that of tennis courts.

The momentum to create new pickleball courts in Moab has been building for a few years. The national pickleball community has been growing exponentially—according to the USA Pickleball Association, participation in the sport grew 21.3% between 2019 and 2020, up to 4.2 million players. The Moab Pickleball Club has at least 10 committed players, with more in and out of rotation.

Davidson has been advocating for the courts at multiple city council meetings.

“We’ve been waiting a really long time for this,” he said at a meeting on Feb. 8, adding that the pickleball community is all-ages and very tight-knit.

Due to these requirements, choices were limited. The city was ultimately deciding between building courts at Swanny Park or Old City Park.

In early February, the Moab City Council voted to move forward with construction of the courts at Old City Park, reasoning that there would be less residential impact at Old City Park, since fewer people live near there than at Swanny Park.

However, after extreme pushback from residents who live near Old City Park, the council is reconsidering.

At the noise demonstration, most residents said they were less worried about the noise and more worried about the feel of Old City Park changing. The park is on the outskirts of town and is what multiple residents referred to as a “nature” park, or a “rural” park, meaning that it’s quiet and rarely busy. The park has a few amenities: it has a small playground, pavilion, and occasionally people set up volleyball nets.

With the addition of the proposed four pickleball courts on the south end of the parking lot, residents worried that the courts would draw more, and too much, traffic—especially if local pickleball players used the courts for tournaments.

“It’s the last quiet park we have,” said Deanna King at the noise demonstration. She is the owner of Red Moon Lodge and Retreat, a nearby bed and breakfast. “We don’t want to lose that.”

She’s not opposed to pickleball, she said, just opposed to the proposed location—as many other residents at the demonstration expressed.

Jennifer Wenzel organized a petition, “Save the Quiet at Old City Park” on change.org, which has over 800 signatures. Most of the comments say things like, “Old City Park is the only place not overrun by tourists,” “keep the park quiet,” “stop with the brutal development,” “too noisy.”

For now, the future of the courts is in limbo.

Councilmember Rani Derasary said she attended the demonstrations on both days and talked to both residents and pickleball players, and opinions were largely mixed: most residents who attended the noise demonstrations were against the courts at Old City Park, and some pickleball players said they’d like to see courts built closer to town so they’d be walkable—though in general, the pickleball players were glad to see the city trying to build new courts in the first place.

In an email to the Sun News, Derasary also noted that the total cost of building courts at Old City Park is now budgeted at $300,000, taking into account recent supply chain issues and higher construction costs. The grant the city applied for will only cover $200,000—$80,000 from the city, $40,000 from Grand County with an $80,000 match awarded with the grant.

“It does seem we’re still in discussion, mutual education and Q&A mode,” she said.