Urbana Park District

Tour curated by: Explore CU staff

On a crisp fall morning in Busey Woods, a small group of avid birders, binoculars in hand, spy a bright red scarlet tanager bathing in a puddle. Meanwhile, at Meadowbrook Park, a couple walking band-in-hand on the concrete path pause to gaze admiringly at "Here and There;' the latest addition to the impressive Wandell Sculpture Garden. Later that afternoon, a family gathers under a pavilion at Crystal Lake Park. Smoke rises from a grill as children huddle during a game of touch football.

ln Urbana, it's good to be outside.

And that is perhaps the real reason for the creation of the Urbana Park District a century ago: to encourage residents to enjoy the outdoor spaces; to build up their bodies and minds by connecting with nature-no matter whether it's by playing in a summer softball league, taking a dip at Crystal Lake Pool, or watching the birds feed outside the Anita Purves Nature Center.

When the Urbana Park District was formed in 1907, it had but one property, Crystal Lake Park, with its towering oaks and hickories. The park is a remnant of Big Grove, a 10-square-mile prairie grove that attracted pioneer settlers to the area, starting in the 1820s. As Big Grove disappeared, the timber cleared and marshes drained for farmland, for pastures and for an expanding city, Urbana residents realized that not only was their heritage on the verge of vanishing, but their connection with nature could be lost forever.

The park district quickly expanded. Next came Carle Park, in the heart of the community's residential area, in 1909, followed by a string of other parks. The expansion continues to this day, with the restoration of a 9-acre savanna and creation of wetlands at Weaver Park.

Restoration and reconstruction of ecosystems that once were common features of the Illinois landscape has been one of the most important missions undertaken by the Urbana Park District. Once the productivity of the soil was realized and the
moldboard plow came along, the tallgrass prairie, the most common ecosystem in Illinois (about 60 percent of the state was prairie), quickly disappeared. Vast marshes and river bottoms were drained. The oaks and hickories in the prairie groves were felled. Today, Illinois looks nothing like it did when it became a state in 1818. The figures are startling: Less than one percent of native prairie-land never touched by a plow-remains.

But visitors standing in the middle of the Meadowbrook Park, surrounded by head-high grasses and colorful flowers, can easily imagine what the vast tallgrass prairie must have looked like. In the same way, a hiker on the boardwalk in Busey Woods can see firsthand a bottomland woods, with muddy ponds and overflows from the Saline Branch of the Salt Fork River. The restored savanna at Weaver Park, with its majestic oaks amid the grassy prairie waving in the breeze, will become another gem for people to enjoy.

This tour features 19 of the Urbana Park District’s parks, and also features the Chautauqua, a historical and cultural event that was once at home on the grounds of Crystal Lake Park.

Text by Kirby Pringle, published in Mancuso, Dana L. (Ed.). (2007). A century of growth: the Urbana Park District's first 100 years. Urbana, IL: Urbana Park District.

Locations for Tour

AMBUCS Park, originally known as Woodland Park, has undergone a significant metamorphosis-adding many active park features to the wooded site since it has come under the management of the Urbana Park District. However, its history of recreational…

Looking ahead to serve future community needs has been a hallmark of the Urbana Park District for more than half a century. While some in the community believed that Urbana would not develop as far south as Blair Park, the Board of Commissioners felt…

Before the park district leased the site, it was home to the Champaign-Urbana Optimists' Babe Ruth baseball program for post-Little League youth. The park was named by the Optimists prior to park district acquisition. It was named for club…

Urbana Park District Acreage: 8.3 This 8.3-acre park was donated by Mrs. Margaret Carle Morris on March 5, 1909. It is located across from Urbana High School, along Race and Garfield streets, between Douglas Street, Indiana Avenue and Iowa Street.…

Chieef Shemauger Park is named for a Patowatomi Indian Chief who signed a treaty with white settlers who moved to Urbana. The park district’s Planning and Operations facility is located on the east half of the park. The park's 13.5 acres were…

Crestview Park and its Asian garden sit along South Cottage Grove Avenue between Florida and Colorado avenues in a mixed residential area that includes single-family homes and apartment complexes. Urbana Park District files include copies of a 1972…

Created in 1907, Crystal Lake Park is the oldest in the Urbana Park District. Begun as a privately owned park, it is located just north of the intersection of University and Broadway avenues. A destination for generations of park users, this wooded…

Along East Perkins Road just east of the Urbana Dog Park site is Judge Webber Park, a 24-acre site that is used by the park district and the East Central lllinois Archery Club. The park district was unable to fund development of the park site, and…

A 4.5-acre tract in north Urbana acquired early in 1967 was known briefly as the Hays park project until a May 1967 meeting during which the park board unanimously approved a motion by Commissioner Walter jackson to name the park for Dr. Martin…

Now the site of the administrative offices of the Urbana Park District, Leal Park was once Urbana's first cemetery, containing the remains of early pioneers and Indians. Located along west University Avenue near Race Street, the cemetery was…

Meadowbrook Park, at 130 acres, is the district's shining example of how long-range planning and acquisition of property for the longterm yield remarkable results over time. While many park sites in the district were gifted, leased or purchased…

Lohmann Park is a I5-acre expanse just south of Thomas Paine School in southeast Urbana. It is the site of the University of lllinois Club Cricket Field and serves as a practice site for a local youth football league. It is also home to the…

The Patterson Parklet features benches, evergreen foliage, a playground, and a basketball court. This parklet is currently under rennovation.

Prairie Park, located along East Washington Street in Urbana, is home to many of the district's athletic programs in 2007, including baseball and softball. It is also representative of the many ways the Urbana Park District and Urbana School…

South ridge Park is Urbana's easternmost park. Located in the Myra Ridge subdivision, it is a neighborhood park that offers a playground and open field. The park is a result of a 1987 gift from local developer Carl Hill, who donated the 11 .5…

A few blocks west of Crestview Park along Burkwood Drive is the 1.4-acre Sunnycrest Tot Lot, a playground for preschoolers. The land was donated in 1958, contingent upon the park district providing the improvements, such as picnic tables and small…

How did Victory Park get its name? Does the name commemorate neighbors' small gardens once grown in the area, or the end of a world war? Victory Park is Urbana's fourth oldest. The original 2.4 acres for what is now Victory Park were…

Although still in the first phases of development, Weaver Park already has surprised the Urbana Park District in its variety and potential uses. This a 60-acre park along east Main Street was purchased with the assistance of a grant from the Illinois…

The merger of national church denominations in the early 1970s led to creation of Wheatfield Park off McHenry Street in southeast Urbana. The five-acre plot had been destined to become the home for a new church building. Nearby residents had been…

Grounds that are now part of Crystal Lake Park were at one time home to a series of Chautauquas. Chautauquas helped citizens of the time experience first-hand their local and national culture. Theodore Roosevelt once characterized the Chautauqua as…
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