Location of proposed paddleball court sparks controversy in Jersey Shore town
Just off the beach in Sea Girt sits a small pocket of a rare type of forest. Crescent Park is a maritime forest of mostly Holly trees.
It is the kind of beachy woods that once covered most of the northern Jersey Shore, but is now almost gone from Monmouth and Ocean counties. But Crescent Park is also home to something else – tennis and paddleball courts.
There are three courts and a paddleball platform. During an August Zoom meeting, the Sea Girt Borough Council unanimously passed a plan to build another paddleball court right next to it, along with a viewing area.
“I would love another court here. I think that it would be great for the community,” says paddleball player Jody Hopkins. “There’s a ton of paddle players, it’s an up and coming sport around the area.”
But the plan has sparked a backlash from some residents who say that the paddleball court should go somewhere else.
“Paddleball courts and things are great. It's community involvement we love that. We're a one-mile-square town. We're all about community. But it's really about where they want to put it. Because there are not many places that have rare maritime forests and really the issue is that,” says Megan Pacceti.
Opponents argue that one can build a paddleball court on any empty lot or park, so why put it on what may be one of the most endangered ecosystems in New Jersey?
“Save Crescent Park” signs are posted all over the town. An online petition has collected around 1,200 signatures. There are only 1,800 residents in the town.
Sea Girt officials say only 0.3% of the 17-acre forest will be cleared. The town plans to plant two trees for every tree it cuts down. And they say that the demand for the paddleball court is strong.
“We already have this set up here. We have the area already set up with the lights and the heaters, and everything. So it seems like it fits in perfect here,” says one player.
Town officials also say that demand for paddleboard court time has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. They say that court reservations doubled from 2019 to 2020 as more people looked to get outside.
But many other people took time during the pandemic to get fresh air by walking the woods.
The project to build a new court did get the support of the town's Shade Tree Commission.