EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing series spotlighting different neighborhoods in Denton. The stories by journalism students are part of an ongoing partnership between the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas and the Denton Record-Chronicle.
The afternoon sun beats down on 27-year-old Amber Johnson as she comes to a halt in her roughed-up tennis shoes after finishing her final lap around North Lakes Park in Denton.
She pushes a few buttons on the silver iPod attached to her left arm and bends down to grab a plastic water bottle as she tries to catch her breath.
“I love this park, it’s so peaceful here,” Johnson said. “I’ve been running here for the past year and it’s by far my favorite park in Denton.”
Johnson bypasses other parks on her daily commute from Corinth to North Lakes, which sits in the northwest corner of Denton at the intersection of Bonnie Brae Street and Windsor Drive.
“I don’t mind the drive, I always get more work done here,” she said. “I’ve run at a few other places in the area but I guess there’s just something about this place.”
The city’s flagship 351-acre park is home to multiple baseball and soccer fields, a 17,000-square-foot recreation center and two lakes that are stocked with fish nearly year-round. Other amenities include volleyball courts, a rugby field, disc golf course and a few pavilions.
After a few minutes on one of the 2-mile running trails that wrap around the perimeter of the park, something begins to stand out about North Lakes Park and the people who make it pulse.
The park is more than just an attractive green space. It’s Denton’s answer to New York City’s Central Park, a destination where people of all ages can be playful, be competitive and be themselves.
The sidewalks are filled with artwork and scribbles drawn in chalk by children who visit the park on a daily basis. Once school lets out in the early afternoon, North Lakes Park becomes a place of fun and games.
Kacie Joiner, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom, lives just a few miles from the park and tries to bring her son a few times per week.
“It’s a great place to bring children because there are so many things to do,” Joiner said. “I don’t think a lot of parents take advantage of everything that the city offers with parks like this.”
Today, Joiner’s son, 10-year-old Travis, is kicking up dust playing kickball with some friends who rode their bikes to the park. Tomorrow, he might take advantage of the batting cages across the street, and one day, maybe even the driving range.
“I think it’ll be a while before he wants to go to the driving range,” Joiner said, laughing. “Right now, he thinks golf is boring.”
But it isn’t just the little ones who spend their afternoons under the sun at Denton’s largest and most diverse park.
Between two perpendicular outfield fences and a row of freshly painted soccer fields near the center of the park, high-tops screech back and forth against a concrete basketball court enclosed by grass.
Dark silhouettes chase one another in front of the purple and orange sunset as precious beams of light continue to slip away. Just as the last few slivers of light begin to fade, the ball rattles through the rusted iron rim and play comes to a halt.
Handshakes are exchanged and evening plans discussed as the players untie their shoelaces and head for the parking lot only a few yards away.
“I’ve been trying to get as many games in as possible before it gets too cold,” Sajjad Masumi said as he pulled an old white towel from his backpack. “Even if you come alone, you can usually find some people looking to get a game started.”
Masumi and his friends find North Lakes to be a convenient location for the group. However, for Masumi, weekly basketball games are about more than just convenience.
“We usually come here because most of us live near [the University of North Texas] campus,” Masumi said. “It’s nice to have a place like this so close where we can get away from everything for a while.”
Even as his school workload steadily increases, Masumi still plans on running back and forth on that patch of concrete in North Lakes.
“Sometimes things get hectic and you need to have a place where you can go to relax,” he said. “It might not look like it to some people, but to me, there’s nothing more relaxing than a game of basketball or a quick jog around the park.”
Masumi, who studies at North Central Texas College’s Corinth campus, expects the weekly games to move indoors to Pohl Recreation Center on UNT’s campus as the weather continues to cool. To continue playing with his current group, he’ll need to purchase a gym membership to gain access to the courts.
“I’m not sure yet whether or not I’m going to get a membership,” Masumi said. ”I’ve got a few other options to look into, but I might do it because it’s more fun to play with people you know.”
Regardless of whether or not he decides to get a gym membership, Masumi is sure of one thing.
“I’ll definitely be back next year,” he said. “I still haven’t found a better place to play in Denton.”