Bringing life to Eau Claire with pickleball

The Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club is making changes to McDonough Park to accommodate Eau Claire citizens of all ages

More stories from McKenna Dirks (She/Her)

As Judy Lien was going through cancer treatment five years ago, she was introduced to a sport called pickleball through the LiveStrong program. She began playing the sport as part of her healing process, which led her to become involved with the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club

The Chippewa Valley Pickleball club has set out to bring McDonough Park back to life with new features, such as walking trails, shuffleboard and improved pickleball courts. 

Pickleball is a sport that combines the elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, according to the USA Pickleball website. Pickleball can be played both indoors and outdoors on badminton-sized courts with slightly smaller tennis nets. The sport is meant to be played by people of all ages and skill levels. 

Having met friends and improved her mental and physical health through pickleball, Lien thought the idea of transforming one of Eau Claire’s only parks with pickleball courts is excellent.

“You know, as we get older, it’s important for us to keep our physical health,” Lien said. “So having the opportunity to utilize some of these activities you know, I’m alone, okay. I’m a widow. And so being socially active is extremely important.”

President of the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club, Judy Mirr, said they adopted McDonough Park as part of the City of Eau Claire Adopt a Park or Trail program

“So you’ll see people who are out raking and cleaning up the park exterior or outside of the courts,” Mirr said. “You know, with everything going on with the active aging right now, there’s not quite as much for us to do because they’re really busy getting that all ready too.” 

Mirr said transforming the park into a family-friendly area is a community-based project like no other. She said everyone involved are people who wouldn’t normally be active, but they all play a role in this project now.

With a transformation like this comes expenses to cover repairs and equipment placement. Marilyn Skrivseth, former president of the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club, said her role in this project became crucial with fundraising for the park.  

“So that’s where my role got pretty intense with the fundraising for the six additional pickleball courts,” Skrivseth said. “Plus working with the neighborhood in the city to write a grant— to get funding— to make the other renovations also possible.”

The Active Aging Park project also received two neighborhood grants, both of which were $5,000 each to match if they could raise the money themselves. 

In addition to the fundraising and donations by the community, the city of Eau Claire wrote a grant with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for $204,000 that would be matched if they could raise the money, Skrivseth said. 

She also said David Markquart of Markquart Motors pledged $50,000 toward the $204,000 grant. 

“And then he shocked us all,” Skrivseth said. “He said if we can match that 50, he would give us another 50.”

Markquart, according to Skrivseth, was one of those people who saw how pickleball transformed his own life. She said not only did he have fun, but he got himself in good physical shape. 

The grants helped fund a lot of the new equipment, but the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club fundraised the renovations for the pickleball courts themselves, Skrivseth said. Things like the nets, cracks in the cement and windscreens are in the works of being replaced. 

Skrivseth said of the 300+ members of the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club, at least 90% of them made a donation towards the renovation of the park. 

As things are starting to come together for McDonough Park, Skrivseth said people are now looking for other places to continue to grow pickleball — the magnet of the park. 

Mirr said joining the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club is open for ages as low as 18 to 89 and costs $25 per year for a membership. More information can be found on the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club website

There’s currently no date set for the transformation of McDonough Park to finish, Skrivseth is hoping with the fundraising and installation of new equipment, the park will be finished in the summer. 

“It’s really brought in a remarkable group of people together and they’re the ones that sell it to other people,” Skrivseth said. “I mean how can you not be energized? It really is about building relationships and connections that’s so vital for keeping people healthy, you know.”

Dirks can be reached at [email protected]