EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Proposed pickleball courts within Evansville’s Wesselman Park move another step closer to reality, but not before concerned citizens voiced their frustrations to park officials. Residents who spoke during Wednesday’s parks board meeting say this isn’t about pickleball, but rather what they claim is a lack of communication and transparency, in addition to concerns over the well-being of wildlife within the park.

Some against the proposed 24-court construction, like Jean Webb, say the nature preserve also provides a place for residents to improve their mental and physical health with walking paths and trails.

“That is their nature walk,” says Webb. “It helps them mentally and physically. And looking at nature while working has more benefit than looking at asphalt and fencing.”

Resident Susan Blankenship adds, “That impact is more long-term than pickleball courts.”

Residents made it clear: they support the idea of pickleball courts in Evansville, just not in Wesselman Woods, citing their concerns over wildlife safety and the disruption of a natural ecosystem. Many also say they are upset at what they call a lack of communication.

“I think there could be a much better outreach to the community so this doesn’t have to be a contentious process,” says Dr. Edith Hardcastle, biologist at the University of Southern Indiana, “and that just quite hasn’t been done yet.”

“I don’t think that drawing was even available to the public until right before that city council meeting,” adds Webb. Addressing those claims of no communication or studying, Evansville Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer replied by saying, “I have just about every parks meeting noted where I’ve given updates, publicly in a public setting. So there has been awareness.”

Michael Watkins, who led a grassroots group to study the planned project at Wesselman Park, agrees.

“Saying that we didn’t have any kind of scheme behind the project is incorrect,” says Watkins. “I take offense to people saying that I’m trying to destroy something I’m not.”

Initially 3 phases, the plan is now for one phase; only the construction of 24 courts. According to Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer, Wesselman officials say little if any wildlife impact will occur. Schaefer also says the two bonds approved, series A and series B, total just over $10 million, and will be financed through the city’s riverboat fund. Future hearings will take place where the public can voice their opinions on the design of the courts.