The Hays City Commission on Thursday expressed support for a grassroots effort seeking to install contest-sanctioned horseshoe pits within the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex.

There currently are no tournament-certified game facilities between Salina and the Colorado Springs region, and proponents say horseshoe leagues all over the state already are expressing interest in traveling to Hays if the pits are installed.

“The state tournament is an event Labor Day weekend. It’s normally a two to three day event that brings in generally 100 to 135 pitchers alone, plus their families,” said Hays resident Jim Mortinger, an avid pitcher who competes in both state and national competitions. “They usually spend the night, eat, shop, spend time sightseeing. Salina hosted the state tournament in 2015, reporting that they estimated revenues of approximately $60,000 from hotels, dining and shopping — not to mention the possibility of return visits.”

The city had a sanctioned horseshoe-pitching league from the 1980s until the early 2000s -- at which time competitive pits were removed from Municipal Park to make more space for the expanding Wild West Festival. The pits were to be relocated elsewhere, but the league disbanded and that never happened, Mortinger said.

An avid group of regional pitchers has shown interest in reviving the competitive league. The city currently has two horseshoe pits, one in Seven Hills Park and one in Frontier Park, but they do not meet tournament requirements.

The idea has been in the works since 2015, with a previous Leadership Hays class helping in initial plans. The proposed location is a grassy area just east of the sports complex concession stand.

Vice-Mayor Henry Schwaller IV brought the matter forward for discussion and spoke in favor of adding horseshoe pits to the sports complex.

“I believe this is an excellent location for city-wide horseshoe pits and tournament play,” he said. “I think they have a really great idea.”

Proposed design of the pits calls for the area to be fenced in, with both grassy space and walkways between each pit to accommodate competitive play. The plan calls for 18 pits with lighting for sanctioned play and two pits designated for ADA accessibility.

Hays Recreation Commission has offered to assist with scheduling to help make sure a major horseshoe tournament wouldn’t be scheduled at the same time as another competition due to limited parking at the sportsplex.

Costs were estimated at approximately $67,000 according to 2015 estimates, which included some in-kind donations offered at that time. Taking inflation into account, the actual cost could be upwards of $100,000, Mortinger said.

Commissioners spoke in favor of pursuing the idea, but said they would like to see the group attempt private fundraising efforts or grant applications to help offset costs.

Commissioners also indicated the city could consider providing some support for the project out of remaining sports complex tax funds, which total more than $1 million.

Funding the project out of the city’s special parks budget likely would require other identified projects to be pushed back, Parks Director Jeff Boyle said.

The horseshoe pits concept will be placed on a future commission meeting agenda for approval, and city officials will continue to work with the horseshoe pitchers as plans move forward.

Horseshoe pitchers traveled from all over the state to attend Thursday’s work session, coming to Hays from as far as Bonner Springs, Wamego and Hutchinson. Proponents noted horsehoe pitching is a hobby for residents of all ages and physical abilities.

“I’m really interested in this,” Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said. “I think it’s a great thing for our community. I think it’s great to bring people in -- but even more than that -- it’s a quality of life issue in our community.”

For more from Thursday’s commission work session, see Sunday’s edition or watch