A town in search of a park

Recreation: Residents of Denton on the Eastern Shore await approval of a much-needed area for play.

August 06, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

DENTON -- There are no public swimming pools in town. Not in all of Caroline County, actually.

There are no movie theaters here, skating rinks or really anything to do on a hot day in a small town in the only landlocked county on the Eastern Shore, where parking meters in front of the courthouse charge 10 cents an hour.

So often there's trouble. The neighbors in the town's only African-American neighborhood near Lockerman Middle School complain of teens selling and doing drugs, stealing, languishing on the corner and making too much noise playing basketball on an outdoor court owned by the Masonic Lodge.

"The neighbors are tired of all the racket," said Jennifer A. Shull, Denton's director of housing and community development. "We know we need something else in this part of the community."

City officials think they have come up with a way to provide recreation while revitalizing this neighborhood. They're calling it Wheeler Park. Now just a vacant meadow with the promise of a view of the Choptank River -- when the thick vines and underbrush are trimmed away -- the proposed Wheeler Park may soon be just what this community needs.

Tomorrow, the state's Board of Public Works will vote on allocating $5.2 million to enhance 68 parks in established neighborhoods across the state. The funds will be used for such projects as the installation of a gazebo and pond in far-west Garrett County to improving eight dilapidated playgrounds in the city of Baltimore.

The monies follow $5.4 million handed out last year for 41 park projects, as part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's push for Smart Growth, shunning sprawl in favor of sprucing up older neighborhoods. The money has been in high demand, said Marketta L. Walker, a Department of Natural Resources employee who manages the program. She received more than 300 grant applications asking for more than $44 million.

"The need is definitely there," she said.

The proposed park in this town of 3,000 is named for Robert Wheeler, a longtime resident who died in 1998. The city bought his house and the more than 3-acre parcel between his home and the river for $69,500. Officials hope the park will be open by next spring.

Most importantly to neighbors, the park will not have a basketball court.

But there will be plenty of other amenities. It will have a tennis court (only the city's third), a picnic pavilion, hiking trails and riverfront paths for bird watchers. Denton's expected $176,000 grant would cover all of this work.

"There's not a lot of recreation facilities in Denton, period -- let alone in the black neighborhood," said Denton Town Commissioner H. Victoria Goldsborough, who grew up a few blocks from the Wheeler Park site. "It's a beginning," she said of the proposed park.

"Maybe we can put in a swimming pool or something [later on]. An idle mind is the devil's workshop -- you don't have problems if you keep kids busy.

"My grandmother used to tell me that -- I told her I'd never say it," she said with a laugh. "This will keep them busy."

The middle school across the street will also benefit by having tennis courts its pupils can use during physical education classes.

Brandon Jackson, 18, plays a lot of basketball on the Masonic Lodge court. It's not as much fun anymore, though. There are security cameras to see what the teens are up to, and the neighbors do a lot of complaining.

He wishes Wheeler Park could have a place for basketball and maybe a swimming pool.

But he agrees it's a good first step toward bringing more activities to his part of Denton. (Shull says the city is looking for a better location for the basketball court.)

"It'll keep a lot of people off the streets and keep peace with the old people," Jackson said, "because they get mad when we hang out on the corner."

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