News-Gazette Guest Commentary | C-U's plentiful parks provide nature when it's most needed

May 2020

This commentary was submitted by Fred Delcomyn and posted in The News-Gazette on May 17, 2020 as shown here.

C-U’s plentiful green spaces provide nature when it’s most needed

Coronavirus pandemic got you down? Are you and your kids climbing the walls after being confined to home for weeks? You’re not alone! These are extraordinary times that require unprecedented sacrifice from all of us.

Fortunately, there is something that can help that is not only close at hand but free — visiting our parks. The parks in Champaign-Urbana are open for walking, biking and jogging. They represent a wonderful opportunity to get out of the house, soak up some sunshine and get a little exercise.

As long as you practice social distancing by not crowding others, you and your family will be perfectly safe, so you can not only do yourself some good by getting some exercise, you can also relax in the knowledge that you are doing so in a safe environment.

All well and good. But allow me to let you in on a secret — being in a park has benefits far beyond just keeping you and your family from going stir crazy in our current circumstance. Studies over the last decade have amply demonstrated that simply being in a park is actually good for your health. For both children and adults, study after study has shown that there are significant benefits to health and well-being to spending even a half an hour daily in a park. Adults show reduced levels of stress and children show improved learning in school after exposure to green space in parks. The reasons for this are not clear, but the results certainly are.

Here’s where living in the Champaign-Urbana area gives you a decided edge over other communities. Champaign-Urbana collectively has a higher ratio of park to population than most cities and towns in Illinois. Our community average is about 10 acres of park for every 1,000 people, whereas the state average is about 9.5 acres per 1,000. Maybe not a significant difference, but nevertheless one that points out the abundance of park land in our community.

But there’s more to our parks than simply the designation “park.” Certainly, you can gain some benefit from strolling around West Side Park or Crystal Lake Park. But studies have also shown that although exposure to the green of any park has positive benefits, being in some “natural areas” has even more. And here’s where the Champaign-Urbana community really shines. Nearly 40 percent of the park area in Urbana is designated a natural area. Champaign adds even more.

What this means is that there are plenty of natural areas in Champaign and Urbana that you can visit with your family to keep from going stir crazy. If you want to visit parks that feature nature, check out Busey Woods, Meadowbrook Park and Weaver Park in Urbana, and Heritage Park, Porter Park and Sunset Ridge Park in Champaign.

In these trying times, the Urbana Parks Foundation has tried to capture what our community parks can do for you in the phrase “Nature When You Need It.” This perfectly encapsulates not only the latest research but also the asset that natural areas can be in this extraordinary time.

Visit our parks. And if you can, help the parks by supporting the Urbana Parks Foundation and the Champaign Parks Foundation; both organizations do a great deal to make our parks the superb resources they are.

Fred Delcomyn is a retired professor of entomology at the University of Illinois who currently serves as president of the Urbana Parks Foundation.