Case Study: Pioneer Park, Washington.

A Community Rallies Together In Washington…

Take a stroll through the north east end of Walla Walla’s Pioneer Park on any given afternoon and expect to encounter a dedicated community of outdoor racquet sport enthusiasts made up of people from all walks of life.

Between the 2 outdoor ping pong tables and 6 pickleball courts that sit adjacent to each other; it’s not hard to see how this historic neighbourhood park has fostered such a strong sense of community and active engagement among its many visitors.

Behind this beehive of activity is a passionate group of local community members and residents who took it upon themselves to campaign for these amenities to be added to the shady greens of their local park

One such resident – David Gibson – led the charge when he and his wife Mary Gibson gifted two POPP ICON tables to the Blue Mountain Community Foundation in honour of David’s late father (and avid ping pong player): Charles H. “Chuck” Gibson.

This month, we took a moment to catch up with Dave and learn a little bit more about his father’s love of ping pong, the rise of pickleball, and why Pioneer Park is so treasured by the residents of Walla Walla. 

“Pioneer Park is truly the crown jewel of shared open spaces in our community.”

 

At the centre of this story is your father, Chuck Gibson, can you tell us more about who he was and his interest in table tennis?

Chuck “Coach” Gibson grew up near neighbourhood city parks that provided a variety of recreational opportunities including tennis, pickleball and ping pong. Chuck served in WWII, then graduated from the University of Southern California where he went on to teach at the community college level for over 35 years. Our family had a ping pong table on our patio in southern California, we would eat dinner on that patio every night and then play ping pong until well past dark. It was a challenge to see which one of my sisters or brother could get the most points against Coach, who would regularly have to remind us that “the person who wins, often just gets the ball back over the net one more time”. Our Dad was a human backboard! The backyard ping pong table was where we learned about what had gone on during the day, what news stories were important and what music was becoming popular. You might be late for dinner, but you would never miss the ping pong action!

Since their unveiling, how have the tables been received?

Since we installed our 2 POPP tables in Pioneer Park last year they have seen constant use. Friends will often meet for lunch in the park and then adjourn for a couple of games of ping pong before heading back to their jobs. Other users include a steady stream of students on their way home from school and pet owners out walking their dogs. Community members tend to congregate where they feel safe and where there is laughter, and in both cases the ping pong tables cater for that!

 

 

Describe Pioneer Park for anyone who has never had the chance to visit – what type of people are you likely to encounter on any given day, and what brings them to the park?

Pioneer Park is more than 100 years old at this point. It has an abundance of mature shade trees, walking paths, a prominent playground facility, duck ponds, an aviary and 6 pickleball courts. The park is located in the centre of town with residential housing and schools all within walking distance. Pioneer Park is the crown jewel of shared open spaces in our community!

POPP is dedicated to creating active, engaging outdoor spaces for the benefit of individuals and communities as a whole. Beyond our obvious interest in ping pong, we are always fascinated to hear how other placemaking tools complement our own products and it definitely seems that the pickleball courts are a great example of this – Can you tell us a bit more about pickleball?

Yes, definitely! Our community is very fortunate to have other activity nodes within Pioneer Park. We partnered with the City of Walla Walla five years ago on a similar project. They told us that if we could generate $130,000 of private money, that we could build 6 pickleball courts where there were once two tennis courts that had been neglected and under-utilised. We were successful in raising the funds and the new courts now draw large numbers of players on a regular basis. On the other side of the POPP tables is a large children’s play area that is another public / private partnership project. It has brightly colored slides, swings and climbing equipment. Parents will often watch their youngsters on the equipment while their teenagers play ping pong. The pickleball courts, children’s play area and the ping pong tables all really work well together. Pickleball is quite similar to ping pong, except that players are standing on the playing surface! Both sports involve paddles, lightweight balls and can be picked up very quickly. Ping pong and pickleball are universal games that can be enjoyed by all age groups, from 5 to 95 year-olds. When my wife and I travel in the summer months, we always pack our paddles for both sports!

 

Chuck’s commemorative stone as it stands today – decorated with words of thanks from the local children.

 

What’s your favourite outcome you’ve seen as a result of this project?

I love the many ways that these tables have brought people together in the great outdoors – our local newspaper really helped us get the word out about the Ping Pong in the Park project. They had full-colour, front page images of children and families playing on the tables. We keep 8 paddles and 8 balls under each table… and in 3 months of use only 1 paddle has been misplaced! I love how this sport creates community, laughter and joy across all age groups. True to their word, the POPP tables are steadfast can certainly handle sun, rain, snow and frost. Big thanks go out to Walla Walla Parks and Recreation Dept, the community of Walla Walla and to “Coach” for working together to make this project happen!

 

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