Photography by Jessica Chen

Why I Love Northaven Park

Life along Joe's Creek is special.

The occasional sight of red-tailed hawks high above our corner of Northaven Park has a timeless quality. They circle unhurriedly, seeing everything in the moment. Yet they do not linger, as we have. We’re still here, in Dallas — 35 years past a planned three-year stint that began in 1977. A move that came about by chance evolved into a deliberate choice to settle in Northaven Park

Enduring qualities attract people to live in our neighborhood, and once attracted, many likewise choose to stay.

Central to the neighborhood is its oldest natural feature, Joe’s Creek. Its meandering course imparts a similar design to a number of streets, which in turn encourages an unrushed driving or walking pace through the neighborhood. It’s also especially well suited for dogs of all varieties, walking or running with their people. Almost all will greet you in a friendly fashion.

My wife has summed up our relationship to the creek: “Just a few steps walking along the (Joe’s Creek) greenbelt, and I can feel my blood pressure drop. It’s a quiet oasis in the midst of a big, busy city.” 

A faded photo of young people enjoying what appears to be a homemade rope swing over the bank of the creek illustrates the cover of the 1974 “Flood Plain Information Report, Joe’s Creek for the City of Dallas” produced by the engineering firm Halff Associates. The photo evokes a carefree atmosphere: a place where kids play outdoors — not necessarily sports or tournaments, just play. Children are still drawn to the creek when the water is in good supply and are occasionally seen trying their luck with an old cane pole or a new spinner, aided by the vivid imagination and optimism of youth. Look closely and you’ll catch a glimpse of minnows or fingerlings in the creek, the same fish that draw the attention of waterfowl, including egrets, and (rarely) even the great blue heron.

Doubtless there was less leisure time available to the children of the farming families who lived on, cultivated, and worked this same patch of land from the mid- to late 1800s until the mid-20th century. It was 1955 when the first homes of the Disney Streets of Midway Hills were offered for sale and when Northaven Park itself was dedicated. 

The qualities of the creek would have been well known to the farmers whose land it flowed through and may have offered a pleasant retreat from their daily labors — as well as bringing the difficulties of its occasional flooding. 

Not many years before farming commenced, the creek still attracted native bison herds, which, the author of that 1974 flood study tells us, created natural flood retention areas, indentations in the land called “buffalo wallows.”

Eons earlier, much smaller creatures left their shell impressions in the chalky sediment that now forms part of the creek bed. A lucky kid might still find a newly uncovered “fossil” after a heavy rain. 

Nothing as large as the bison roams these parts today, but residents have reported abundant sightings of raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and beavers (for a few seasons, the upper reaches of Joe’s Creek hosted a beaver family that constructed a small but sturdy dam, sufficient to raise the water level several feet and provide a pond for their habitat), bobcats, and at least one gray fox. Unhappily, in recent years the coyote has arrived with increasing frequency.

Coyotes seemed less evident in the 1990s, when our daughter and her friends found the creek and greenbelt a place for free-form play. After a trip to Glen Rose, our daughter staged her own dinosaur battles on the banks of the creek. There may yet be a few diminutive molded plastic remains to be found there.

Mallard pairs return to the creek every spring — as one neighbor theorized, to the location where they hatched — to start their own broods. Similarly, some fortunate neighbors can count their own children as returnees now establishing their own households here.

Like a small town, in Northaven Park one is likely to know his neighbors. We are fortunate to have known a few of the original homeowners, including several World War II veterans.  A high proportion of the original houses remain, evidence that the midcentury architecture of the Disney Streets, as well as many of the ranch-style homes of later additions, were well constructed and designed.

Quite a few houses have been remodeled or completely renovated while keeping within their original footprints, thus preserving the generous proportion of landscape and open space. For historic structures, the homestead of the pioneering Cox farm family is elegantly preserved and visible on Cox Lane, along with the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition House of the Future, which was acquired after the expo by the Cox family. It stood at the corner of Northaven and Cox for 72 years, until 2008, when it was rescued from pending demolition, relocated, and restored by the preservation-minded owners of the original Cox family home.  Homeowners also have a free hand in shaping their own landscape, and an increasing number of native wildflower, xeriscape, and other alternatives to lawn grass are visible.

In Northaven Park, neighbors volunteer, socialize, plan, preserve, and keep each other informed about crime and other issues in a well-organized fashion through the voluntary Northaven Park Neighborhood Association. If your pet strays from home, there is a good chance that he or she will be safely returned thanks to alert neighbors and NPNA’s “lost / found” pet communications system. NPNA promotes “neighbors knowing neighbors” and offers an impressive calendar of events. The members of a separate organization, Northaven Community Enhanced Neighborhood Patrol, voluntarily pay for an off-duty police officer to provide additional protection for ours and two adjacent neighborhoods.

With continued diligence and care from those who call this place home, we have reason to hope that the creek, the park, and the neighborhood will remain a place of quiet enjoyment and natural wonder for the next generation.

Vince Punaro has lived in Northaven Park since 1986.

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