Westside Park in Champaign, IL. Photo by Lauren AguirreWith spring right around the corner (depending on when you are reading this and how the weather is today), everyone is looking to kick off those salt-stained boots and enjoy some fresh air before the next freak cold front. Take the time check out some of the local parks, either to add some diversity to your routine or as a first-time escapade away from the stuffy offices and classrooms. With so many parks to check out in CU, it would be a huge missed opportunity not to see all that these cities have to offer.

I set out to better acquaint myself with the great outdoors and, even though it was at the request of my editor, I had a much more pleasurable experience than I expected.

Westside Park in Champaign, IL. Photo by Lauren AguirreThe first location on the pilgrimage was Scott Park, located on Third and Springfield, right on the edge of campus. The park offers a small, quaint oasis for those looking to get out and take in some fresh air while still being in the hub of the city. Despite its size, Scott Park offers a full basketball court and jungle gym for the child with us or within us. The Boneyard Creek runs through it, furnishing the park with a miniature bridge that gives it a nice river-walk feel. If you are into grilling but have no balcony or have a jerk for a landlord (both, in my case), there are grills available to use. Just bring charcoal and lighter fluid.

The next park on my excursion was Champaign’s West Side Park, located a bit further out on University and Elm. Located on the border of downtown and residential Champaign, West Side Park is a comfortable, middle-ground refuge for both sides of the coin. West Side is a much larger park with more open space allotted to it, paths to walk along – if trekking though grass and mud is not your thing – and plenty of benches to enjoy the serenity of all that green. There is even swing set along the path to take a load off for a while. As for the scenery, the park has a river running through it, with a beautiful fountain as its centerpiece and a gazebo that serves as a nice place to watch the sunset over the historical houses of Champaign.

If you prefer wide-open spaces, there are always the expansive fields to start games of football, futbol or ultimate Frisbee, like the group from Champaign Central High School was, when I scouted the area out. A few of the guys took a moment’s rest to tell me about their favorite retreat. “It’s big, it’s open and it’s just clean,” one told me, gesturing out to the field. “It’s right by school and no one really comes here, so it’s peaceful,” another interjected. There is not much else to say – the park is plain but beautiful. There are tall trees to lie under and catch up on some reading, as well as trees short enough to climb. West Side Park can also function as a fantastic post-date destination to take a stroll through with that special someone.

Westside Park in Champaign, IL. Photo by Lauren AguirreThe last park I visited was Crystal Lake Park on Park and Lake, or a block north of University and Broadway. Further out from Campustown than the others, Crystal Lake offers a much larger area and much more scenery than the other two. The park is Urbana’s oldest park, created when the Saline Branch was dammed off to create the Crystal Lake that runs through the park, winding around the grassland path. The path in the park is long enough to justify bringing out the bike and making a few laps to clear your mind. The serenity breathes an air of peacefulness that is hard to come by in the city. For the bridge lovers – and I admit a weird weakness for standing over water – there are tons of wooden bridges over the lake’s junctions that connect to the park’s nature paths. Near the southern entrance, there are fishing piers, where you can cast a line and a small boardwalk that takes you up to the lake. Connected to this boardwalk is the lake house that is available to rent out. It makes a great location for parties and events this coming season. For those looking for rates and information, the park’s website is urbanaparks.org/lakehouse. The park is also located next to the Busey Woods, where trails are available to those who are adventurous and really looking to get in touch with nature and themselves.

With these parks barely scratching the surface of what is out there, I hope that I have at least enticed or intrigued readers into discovering it for themselves. It is getting warmer, folks. Get some sun, find some nature and see what you can discover in the city. It is a cheap way to change the pace of the drab routines we sometimes find ourselves in.

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