Donor puts pickleball expansion on the fast track

Eight more courts should be finished by next spring at Pine Nursery Park

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Published Aug 23, 2014 at 12:01AM

Plans to build another eight pickleball courts at Pine Nursery Park are being accelerated, due to a donation from a Bend pickleball enthusiast.

Werner Zehnder has offered $250,000 to the Bend Park & Recreation District to help complete stage two of the pickleball complex at the park on Bend’s east side. Zehnder asked the park district to step up its work to have the courts completed by next spring, and park district officials believe they can meet that target.

“It’s an aggressive time schedule, but it’s one that’s achievable,” said Matt Mercer, director of recreation for the district.

A pickleball player for the last four years, Zehnder, 65, and his wife, Susan, moved to Bend from Seattle in 2012. He said they’ve fallen in love with the city and its parks system, and they wanted to make a meaningful contribution to their new home.

“We wanted to give something back to the community while we’re alive and can enjoy it,” Zehnder said. “Not wait until we’re dead and have a sign on the court, ‘In loving memory of Susan and Werner Zehnder.’”

Mercer said the eight courts opened at Pine Nursery Park earlier this year were built for between $230,000 and $240,000, and the Zehnders’ donation should come close to covering the full cost of the next eight. The district’s master plan for the area calls for shaded areas for spectators, additional landscaping, a storage shed and possible lighting for some or all of the courts, Mercer said, which the district may not be able to complete by next spring.

The eight courts at Pine Nursery Park make up the biggest pickleball complex in the region. The park district split the cost of constructing the courts with the Bend Pickleball Club — Zehnder is a member — which organizes play in the mornings Mondays through Saturdays.

Beyond the courts at Pine Nursery, the park district operates six dedicated pickleball courts at Quail, Ponderosa, Summit and Larkspur parks, and a second multipurpose surface at Quail Park that can be used for pickleball if players provide their own net.

Mercer said the district was initially cautious about investing in pickleball courts, but warmed to the idea once the pickleball club offered to cover half of the cost. The courts have been heavily used since they opened in May, he said, and nearly every introduction to pickleball class hosted by the park district has been full.

“We get calls every day,” Mercer said. “It’s a pretty phenomenal trend going on. I think we’re kind of continually surprised and amazed at the popularity and interest in the game.”

Figuring out how to meet the demand for a sport that’s on the upswing is challenging, Mercer said, but pickleball courts are relatively inexpensive to construct — and easily convertible to tennis or basketball or other hard-court sports should pickleball’s growth slow.

Zehnder said he’s seen no indication pickleball is slowing down. As membership in local clubs has swelled, he’s met more and more Bend natives in their 30s and 40s who recall playing pickleball in high school gym and who are interested in giving the game another try. Once the new courts at Pine Nursery are in place, the Bend Pickleball Club intends to launch a program to introduce the game to today’s school-aged kids, he said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com