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Its a jungle (gym) out there at park
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LATHROP – “You touched the lava.”

“No I didn’t – I froze the lava first.”

“That was a foul.”

“No it wasn’t – that was a clean swat.”

The conversations at Lathrop’s Manuel Valverde Park are entertaining to say the least. It’s easily one of the city’s most utilized open spaces. A recent overhaul that added state-of-the-art playground equipment, basketball and bocce ball courts and wide expanses of grass ensure that it’s utilized daily.

There are sports fields in the back. A concrete walking route around the park is popular with walkers and people looking to enjoy themselves outdoors.

But it’s the playground – the jungle gym, if you will – that draws the most attention and gets the most praise from those who frequent it with their children.

“I like that it’s age specific,” said Monica Portrero, who spent the afternoon watching her daughter climb up and down ladders and fly down the slides with an ear-to-ear grin. “There’s a section for the bigger kids, and a smaller section for the younger kids, and that really makes it convenient for the parents.

“It’s got everything that you’d ever want.”

Portrero has a point – the playground is stacked. One section boasts a rock-climbing wall, a myriad of slides, a rope dome, and a cargo climber. And that’s not even taking into account the ingenious ways that kids utilize pieces of equipment for ways in which they were never designed.

There’s a fire truck for the young tykes. There’s a smaller climbing system for the littler kids as well.

And all of it serves as the backdrop for Lathrop’s most heavily-utilized – and promoted – park. One of the benefits for parents is that the park is the only one in the city that provides a free WiFi signal to those who utilize it. The other benefit is that it’s part of a city complex that includes the neighboring Lathrop Community Center where city staff organize programs for the youth of the community. It also includes the Lathrop Senior Center, which strives to foster the sense of community.

There isn’t a day that goes by, save for when it rains, that the basketball court doesn’t have a team waiting to take on the winner of the game that’s going on. The language can be rough at times – we’re talking about playground basketball – but the competition is intense, and the level of respect among the players is on the same level.

It’s Lathrop’s Rucker Park.

Here are some other popular features:

• Park Benches
– Whether it’s a chance to sit and reflect in front of the city’s Veteran’s Memorial or an empty bench under a tree, grabbing a free moment to enjoy solitude is an easy task at Valverde Park. People watching. Reading. Just sitting. Whatever your bag is, you can find it here.

• Walking Path
– The Lathrop Relay for Life event was held here for several years. Participants walked a concrete path that circles the back portions of the park. It still gets used quite heavily. The laps are long, but they’re a great chance for exercise.

• The Water Feature
– It’s January. And it’s 70 degrees. It’s still not the season for the interactive water feature at Valverde Park to be the popular summer draw that it becomes, but it’s still something to keep in the back of your mind for when the mercury creeps towards triple digits. At this rate that might be in two weeks.