Scattered throughout Champaign-Urbana is a treasure trove of parks, ponds and gardens. For a metropolitan area, there are a great variety of scenic retreats, full of native plants and outdoor areas of playgrounds and places to picnic. Here is a quick guide to a few sites to visit in Champaign-Urbana, especially enjoyable in the warm weather.
Meadowbrook Park (Urbana)
Formerly the McCullough family farm, Meadowbrook Park still maintains many of the farm features, including the corncrib, farmhouse and renovated dairy barn. Most importantly, volunteers have been working since 1977 to restore the natural prairie grass and native plants in Meadowbrook Park. Of the 130 acres comprising park grounds, 80 acres are recreated tallgrass prairie. The Freyfogle Overlook within the park provides a perfect vantage point to see the prairie from the highest location. Meadowbrook is also home to Urbana Park District’s largest playground, as well as an abundance of trails and gardens. There is even a community garden open from March to October where community members are welcome to plant. There are 3 miles of paved paths looping around the park, and 2 miles of unpaved path to take through the prairie.
Maral Deyrmenjian, Champaign resident, enjoys the scenery walking through Meadowbrook Park in the summer.
“I like that their statues are sort of strange and feminine, and there are nice alcoves to hide away and sit in. The fireflies are also super beautiful over the meadow areas”.
Meadowbrook Park is also home to plenty of wildlife including deer, birds and even beavers.
University of Illinois Arboretum (Urbana)
The University of Illinois Arboretum is located at the intersection of Florida and Lincoln Avenue in Urbana. It features an assortment of gardens, including the Welcome Garden, Hartley Garden and Idea Garden- in addition to the Japan House. The Japan House offers a variety of cultural classes and tea ceremonies, which are open to the public on certain days. A particularly special and scenic part of the Arboretum is the Hartley Garden, with hundreds of different flowering plants in bloom at this time of year.
Helms Park (Champaign)
One of the defining landmarks of Helms Park is the Stone Arch Bridge, which was built around 1860 and was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1981. The bridge was originally used as a railroad connection, but it was rerouted in 1890. Helms Park includes part of the Second Street Detention Basin, which is a watershed for Boneyard Creek. Partly due to recent efforts in cleaning up Boneyard Creek, wildlife includes fish, ducks, geese, turtles and herons.
Gabriella Peters, Champaign resident, frequently walks through Helms Park.
“There are always geese and sometimes cranes. It’s nice when the baby geese are there and you see them waddling around. It’s really cute, but the mother geese are really protective. I like to sit and relax by the waterfall and watch them”.
Dog Parks (Champaign/Urbana)
The Urbana Park District Dog Park opened in 2003 with the help of the Dog Park Advisory Committee. It is 10 acres of land for dogs to run free off leash. The groves of trees, open meadows and company of other canines is a dog’s dream. It’s the perfect place to socialize your pet, even including a fenced area for shy dogs. The daily admission fee is $5 for visits, or you can get an annual membership for $19 as a resident with one dog. This also covers your entrance to the Champaign Park District Dog Park, located at Windsor and Rising Road. Both parks are open daily from dawn to dusk, providing a place for pups to romp around all day.
If you’re looking to explore, try a visit to Kickapoo State Park near Danville or Clinton Lake State Recreation Area in De Witt.