Apple Valley resident Diane Erickson blames the vexing pop! of pickleball paddles for driving her inside the house she's occupied for nearly half a century.
Erickson, who lives 54 feet from a popular city pickleball court, says the sounds of the senior-friendly game — including players' chatter, cheers and sometimes foul language — make her crazy.
"After 20 minutes, my nerves can't take it," said Erickson, who insulated the floor and ceiling in her TV room to drown out the din. "I have to go in the house and isolate myself. It's just constant noise."
Erickson and her neighbors are at the center of a debate in Apple Valley over the pickleball courts' future. They say the game is so noisy that the courts should be closed at Hayes Park and built elsewhere, despite their convenient location near bathrooms and locker rooms at the city's community center.
The City Council will discuss sound abatement options Thursday, along with modified hours and whether to study potential relocation of the courts. On Wednesday, city officials met with Erickson and another opponent about possible compromises.
The city has tried to address the concerns, said Barry Bernstein, Apple Valley's parks and recreation director. It conducted a sound study last summer, which concluded that the noise didn't exceed sound pollution levels set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Bernstein contends that whether the noise is disruptive is a matter of opinion.
"What might be loud to you may be not loud to me," he said.
Even so, city officials are weighing a "variety of different options" to make peace.
The city already set restrictions on afternoon and weekend play, requiring the use of a softer — i.e., quieter — ball, and it banned overhead lights that allow players to volley after dark.
Officials also paid a firm to come up with sound abatement options, such as attaching sound barriers to fences.
Linda Goodwin, an Apple Valley pickleball player, admits the game can be loud. But a few complaints shouldn't be enough to stop play, she said.
Despite pickleball's widespread and growing popularity — or maybe because of it — it's notoriously irksome to many who live or work near its courts.
Woodbury responded to several complaints in 2012 by installing plastic on its nets and changing court hours, said Sue Ek, who played there.
Justin Maloof, executive director of the USA Pickleball Association, acknowledged that the noise issue has come up elsewhere.
"It's a different sound than tennis — you're hitting a polymer ball with a paddle," he said.
A social outlet
Pickleball has taken the Twin Cities by storm over the past five years, providing an athletic and social outlet for hundreds of retirees who flock to outdoor courts when the weather is nice. Suburbs from Lakeville to Eden Prairie have created outdoor courts to keep up with the influx of players.
The sport draws players who like racket sports but prefer a smaller court that requires less running around. It also has a strong social component.
Maloof said that pickleball players are devoted to the sport. "They'll play in the morning, they'll play in the afternoon, they'll play at night," he said.
In 2014, six dedicated pickleball courts were installed at Hayes Park. Though not immediately popular, the courts now are packed with players, Bernstein said. "When you're the first city south of the river to put in pickleball courts, people travel from great distance to play on [them]," he said.
Bernstein said he figures that fewer players will play at Hayes Park this year because so many new courts have opened, which might reduce the noise.
Westley Dayus said he's sent the city about 90 e-mails complaining about the noise from courts near his home. Dayus said he can't fully enjoy his property and his wife doesn't garden as often as she once did.
"It's the cracking of that ball for 13 hours [a day]," he said.
Dayus said city officials should have researched the sport before putting in the courts. He and Erickson want them moved to a city park at County Road 42 and Johnny Cake Ridge Road.
Erickson said that after the outdoor season starts, typically in late April or early May, she'll rise early to get things done before the courts come alive at 8:30 a.m.
"I'm dreading it," she said.
Lance Willis, an acoustical engineer from Arizona, has prepared many noise abatement plans for pickleball courts in states such as California and Idaho. He typically recommends prefabricated concrete walls around the ball courts, at a cost of about $100 a foot, though other wall systems and fencing can also muffle sound.
Some other methods, such as using sound-deadening paddles or balls, would require enforcement to work. Willis also suggests that pickleball courts be located at least 150 feet from residences.
Some say they don't mind the game's noise. Joel Hylland, who lives about 200 yards from the Apple Valley courts, said he appreciates that it keeps seniors active.
"It sounds like people having fun," he said.
But Maggi Tjaden, who lives 20 feet from the nearest court, agrees that the courts are too loud. And she's a fan.
"I am in a pickle ... I play the game, it's good for my body and soul," she said. "But it really is an intrusion on our backyards."