Officials say they’ve seen a sharp rise among residents seeking passes to play tennis at Mead Park this summer.
The town has sold 216 total passes compared to 144 last year, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Steve Haberstroh said during the appointed body’s regular meeting Wednesday.
Within those figures, the number of adult passes has increased year-over-year from 59 to 115, while youth passes have increased from 17 to 42, Haberstroh said during the meeting, held via videoconference.
“Likely due to COVID, people are interested in tennis again,” he said during an update on tennis activity.
The courts at Mead Park and New Canaan High School both are seeing robust regular use, Haberstroh said. On good weather days, 35 to 45 courts are used daily at each location, he said.
Starting May 10, the high school courts began requiring users to register ahead of time to use the courts and had an attendant there to ensure CDC and U.S. Tennis Association guidelines are followed, and 450 people signed up, Haberstroh said.
The only user group buying fewer passes is seniors, down slightly from 65 in 2019 to 56 this summer, he said.
The reason for the overall increase likely is that residents are looking to do outdoor sports and to social-distance amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, Parks & Rec commissioners said. Commissioner Francesca Segalas added that gyms were closed until recently, meaning residents looked to public outdoor facilities for physical activity.
Recreation Director Steve Benko noted that the town’s tennis clinics are seeing strong sing-ups and have “more people and kids involved than in the past.”
The surge in activity comes months after the use of the courts at Mead Park and the town’s investment in tennis-related infrastructure was questioned due to an apparent decline in interest in the sport and pastime in recent years.
Haberstroh noted that the courts at Mead Park didn’t open until June 13 this summer because the companies that ready them found themselves under-staffed due to the virus. The Commission discussed ways that contractors may be incentivized in the future to come to New Canaan earlier to do the work.
Segalas said the courts may be opened earlier in the day, remain open later at night and asked whether an accommodation could be made for New Canaan residents seeking to use the Mead Park courts who don’t want to pay for a pass (they’re $100 for adults and $25 for those 17-and-under). As it is now, a guest fee of $10 is assessed to those seeking to play on the courts with a pass-holder.
“If they’re a resident, why do they have to be someone else’s guest?” Segalas said.
She added, “I just think the courts are a little bit inaccessible and clubby for being community courts.”
Chair Rona Siegel said the group would consider Segalas’s suggestion, and adding a “family pass” to its pricing structure.
Commissioner Laura Costigan noted that some of the changes the town should consider result directly from restrictions that have followed from COVID-19. More residents are seeking to play tennis and golf because “there are only so many things you can do,” she said.
“This was not a problem a year ago, but maybe now it is,” she said.
Responding to one resident’s request that time slots for booking tennis courts be longer than one hour, Siegel said the Commission also would consider making a change.
Haberstroh said that in addition to incentivizing vendors to open up the courts earlier in the spring, the town should consider whether it provides an appropriate number of courts to residents and whether it should charge a fee for using the high school courts.
“This was hopefully going to be a telling year to see, but clearly because of COVID there is a lot more interest, so we probably need another year,” he said.