Wagon Park Woes and the Ball Court Racket in Ocean Beach

While plain in appearance, the Ocean Beach tennis courts have been a gathering place for a number of athletic activities, including this corn hole tournament last August. Behind the children, a congested wagon park can be seen in the shadows. Photo by Kevin Lowry.

Decision makers in the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach are finding themselves in a bit of a pickle these days. While enduring flash floods in the middle of an  infrastructure plan to mitigate future floods, another storm has been brewing over the winter.

“We’re trying to figure out what we want to do with our tennis and sports area that we have in the village,” said Village Trustee Ian Levine as he hosted online informational meeting, after New Year’s Day, on January 3. “Let’s talk about the tennis center… or the tennis courts and sports facility. The area is planned on being open for the summer of 2024. I believe there should be multi-purpose use. I believe there is room for other sports to be played there…. Pickleball is a big sport right now.”

Levine’s sentiments could not have come as too much of a surprise to the 75 people who tuned in on this weeknight meeting. The pickleball craze has been gaining momentum across South Shore Long Island for some time now – as has the tension between tennis players and the pickleball players in Ocean Beach for court time last summer.

“There are alternatives for pickleball play and there are none for tennis,” said Ocean Beach resident Stephanie Cassell. “I would just advocate to bear that in mind as you set priorities.”

However longtime Ocean Beach resident Josh Bloom, had a different perspective.

“There are twice as many pickleball players in the United States right now as there are tennis players… I don’t think it is unfair to share what limited space we have. I’m sorry if some tennis players are going to be inconvenienced, but you got to share.”

The bayfront tennis courts that any passenger riding an Ocean Beach bound ferry sees as the vessel pulls into the terminal are gone right now. The stormwater mitigation project necessitated their removal over the fall of 2023, as well as the wagon park, with the understanding all would be restored upon the project’s conclusion. A volley of opinions were exchanged between tennis and pickleball players, but everyone remained civil, and the meeting concluded amiably.

However, by February, rumor on the street was that plans were being made to eliminate one of the two existing ball courts with intensions to expand the wagon park.

The basketball court had already sacrificed to make extra room for wagon parking in 2019. Concerns mounted that the ball courts would meet the same fate. Another meeting, dubbed the Tennis/Wagon Park Informational Meeting was hastily convened on February 22, with 85 individuals logging on. This time picklers and bangers alike teamed as a united front, ready to take on the entity that might take one of their beloved courts away.

In another plot twist, Trustee Marco Arment, who co-hosted this second meeting with Levine, broached the idea of a having a fleet of uniform sized courtesy wagons to stock this bigger and better wagon park – an idea that has come up before.

In full disclosure, this editor, who is also an Ocean Beach resident, spoke up in opposition to the wagon fleet idea, but I wasn’t the only one.

“You might as well leave $100 bills all around the wagon park and ask people to return them,” said Josh Bloom.

Trustee Arment said in response that a fleet of wagons, purchased and maintained at taxpayer expense would be far more economical than hiring an attendant to keep order within the wagon park. And why might an attendant in the Ocean Beach wagon park be necessary?

 “The wagon park has become a liability,” said one woman who tuned into the meeting – a statement that resonated with the audience – with overcrowding, larger wagons dwarfing smaller ones, and abandoned wagons taking precious space among the laments that were voiced. 

Calculations presented by the village trustees said there is presently enough space for about 200 wagons in a municipality that has over 600 homes, and that is not counting those from neighboring Fire Island communities who utilize that park.

“It’s a free resource with no restrictions,” said Village Trustee Dawn Hargraves.

If there was any consensus at the informational meeting at all, it was that everyone agreed that conditions of the wagon park have long been unsatisfactory. Also evident was that residents who may not be sports enthusiasts still support keeping these facilities available.

So how can Ocean Beach keep their wagon park accessible and safe for all, while still accommodating the tennis and pickleball players? The ball’s in our court.