Local group advocates for clay courts

A concept plan for Waveland Triangle Park in Linden Hills includes a clay court. Many left supportive comments at a Park Board planning open house last month. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

A group of tennis enthusiasts is asking the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to install clay tennis courts throughout the city and offering to maintain the courts once completed.

Minneapolis Community Clay Court is advocating for public courts of the softer surface and has been met with open arms by Park Board commissioners and staff since making their pitch.

The group says the clay courts are easier on the body than hard asphalt surfaces, enabling people to continue playing as they age, and are better for the environment. They argue the clay courts produce less runoff and prevent the heat concentration created by asphalt.

Mike Tieleman of Byrn Mawr and Charles Weed of Kingfield are two of the men leading the charge. They are lifelong tennis enthusiasts who do most of their playing at public courts, all of which have asphalt surfaces. Clay courts in the Twin Cities are all found at country clubs.

“There’s very few public clay courts across the country,” Tieleman said.

The group is asking the Park Board to take some asphalt courts in disrepair and convert them to clay courts. The organization would then care for the courts, which require frequent maintenance. Despite the regular maintenance required, the overall costs should be lower, they say.

“If you have a community doing that daily, weekly, yearly maintenance, that’s going to be cheaper,” Tieleman said.

That maintenance work by volunteers will meet Park Board goals of building community, they argue. Initial costs should be lower than hard surface courts, too.

“It’s just dirt,” Weed said.

As the group began exploring the idea of getting a public clay court, they were unsure of where to start and were nervous about getting through to the Park Board. But Tieleman and Weed said they reached out to Commissioner Meg Forney (At-large) about 18 months ago and she gave them some advice. Commissioner Londel French (At-large) and Assistant Superintendent Michael Schroeder have also been supportive, he said.

“People have this negative attitude toward bureaucracy and the Park Board, but our experience hasn’t been that,” Weed said.

Schroeder said the Park Board is willing to work with groups like Minneapolis Community Clay Court who offer to pitch in to add a new amenity to city parks.

“When we look at clay courts, it’s an asset we don’t have in our system,” Schroeder said.

The challenge to the Park Board would be the constant maintenance, so having a volunteer group willing to do the work is critical.

The group is hoping to add clay courts across the city but has already seen some planning proposals reflect their efforts. One of two concepts being considered in the MRPB Southwest Area Master Plan for Waveland Triangle in Linden Hills calls for a clay court. The Park Board is still finalizing that master plan, which is expected go up for a vote this summer after another round of community input.

“I’d like to be able to find a way to help them get where they want to be,” Schroeder said.