When my wife, Debbie and our then-almost-two-year-old daughter and I moved to this area in August of 1971, we thought we were coming for three years of graduate school. Now almost 47 years later, we are still here. How did that happen?
Well, grad school led to job opportunities here. But by then our family had increased to four, and we were faced with the question of where we wanted to raise our family as well as pursue careers. We found the Champaign-Urbana community to be a wonderful place to raise our kids. Good schools, good libraries and good parks played a very important part in that assessment. (The cultural advantages of living in a university town and walk-to-school-and-work housing options also contributed.)
Raising even a small family on two part-time jobs while going to graduate school put stress on both our family time and our financial resources. It’s fair to say that the abundance of park spaces to which we had ready access had a much greater impact on our family life than we had anticipated. We sampled nearly every playground in both towns – sometimes on the way home from the grocery store, sometimes after school, sometimes before bed-time – in short, whenever we could get some family time. The variety and proximity of play space open to everyone was a real asset. Picnics in the park turned even modest meals into adventures.
In the summers, Crystal Lake pool (and Sholem as well) were must-go attractions. Swimming lessons followed, as did youth soccer and basketball, all courtesy of park district programs. Treks through Busey Woods, the annual Turkey Trot, sledding on cannonball hill were not-to-be-missed events. Parks even offered employment opportunities. One of our favorite photos is of our teen-aged daughter, hard-hat firmly in place and a hammer in her hand helping to build an expanded walkway in Busey Woods when she joined a summer park district work crew.
Later Debbie was invited to join UPDAC (Urbana Park District Advisory Committee) and then served twelve years as an Urbana Park Commissioner. It was through those experiences that we began to learn about the full range of things well-run park systems contribute to their communities. We learned about the thousands of school children whose understanding of nature is enhanced by visits to Anita Purves Nature Center, Busey Woods, or the prairie at Meadowbrook. We learned about after-school programs that offer creative play and learning opportunities for hundreds of kids throughout the school year and many more during summer vacations. We learned that by actively working at inter-governmental cooperation, modifications at Weaver Park helped solve a decades-old flooding problem in the Scottswood neighborhood.
Throughout our involvement with the Urbana Park District we have been impressed at the degree to which District officials actually listen to their constituents. UPDAC has been in place for more than four decades. When it came time to replace an aged, outdated Crystal Lake Pool UPD conducted a whole summer of opportunities for Urbana citizens and other users to voice their views on what was needed. The most recent master planning program for future development of parks and green spaces and the more specific updating of Crystal Lake Park all included ample time for public in-put and, more importantly, UPD paid attention to the highest priority public preferences. It is little wonder that during the fiscally stressful time known as the Great Recession, UPD was able to pass not one but two tax referenda. Urbana citizens enjoy and support their parks and those who manage them, and the feeling is mutual.
When the opportunity came for me to be involved in creating and helping operate a new foundation supporting Urbana parks, I jumped at the chance. I have come to regard parks and park programs as vital community assets. Parks are literally for everyone – young or old, wealthy or not, fit or not, able-bodied or not. Parks offer health and fitness opportunities, recreation and relaxation opportunities, competitive team sports, individual improvement options, or just places for quiet solitude. Parks offer places where all segments of the community can gather; they increase our green space and help managing our storm water; they increase property values, make neighborhoods attractive, and improve economic development by attracting new residents.
The Urbana Park District has been in business for more than a century. By creating opportunities for all who use and enjoy Urbana’s parks to improve the resources available to support those parks and programs, the Urbana Parks Foundation helps ensure UPD will excel for the next century as well.
Our kids are now grown with families of their own. It is one of our great pleasures to watch our grandchildren enjoy the same places and experiences that helped make our family and our community strong.