Driving west out of Champaign on Bloomington Road takes you past a 90-acre tract of land surrounded by chain link fence — the site of an old landfill owned by the City of Champaign. No one has dumped garbage at the site since 1975, but a number of groups have used the site for various purposes in the years since.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign Planning Department and the Champaign Park District held a public meeting at the Springer Cultural Center to discuss the future of the old landfill.
About a dozen community members assembled to hear representatives of Hitchcock Design Group, a Chicago design firm contracted by the City and the Park District, detail the history of the site and its current situation. Assistant City Engineer Eleanor Blackmon also reviewed the multi-year, $2.4 million process of capping the entire landfill with 2.5 feet of dirt to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the garbage itself and leaching toxins into surrounding soil and groundwater.
After the presentations, community members were given paper on which to write down their ideas for what activities and features they would like to see at the site. Hitchcock representatives collected the suggestions and taped them to a side wall, where attendees then voted for their favorites. Ideas ranged from bird watching and hiking to BMX bike riding, disc golf, and, of course, operating remote control airplanes.
More than half of the participants in the meeting were affiliated with the Champaign County R/C Club, a local association for remote control plane enthusiasts. The club has used the old landfill site for almost 25 years as a place to launch and fly remote control aircraft. Club members say that over the years they have built two 400-foot runways on the site, in addition to other improvements, to the tune of about $20,000.
To recruit new members, CCRCC invites members of the public to try their hand at flying every Thursday evening in the summer at the landfill site. Anyone who can’t wait that long can attend the event at the University of Illinois Armory on Feb. 9 and 10.
Though familiar to most people in Champaign as the instruments of hobby, remote control aircraft represent a substantial business presence in Champaign. CCRCC is a charter member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics — a national organization of remote control aircraft devotees. In addition, two of the largest manufacturers of remote control model aircraft, Hobbico and Horizon Hobby, make their homes in Champaign.
But the remote control aircraft crowd will have competition for the landfill site — or, at least, it should be prepared to share. For instance, the old landfill is also home to a training ground for police canine units. But according to Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight, the relative isolation of the site means it has a great deal of potential for a range of activities.
“The landfill site isn’t surrounded by residential properties like many parks,” Knight told the crowd, “so we have the opportunity here to allow for uses that would be impossible elsewhere.”
The plan for the site calls for it to remain under City ownership but to be managed and developed by the Champaign Park District. The two are splitting the cost of the current planning process, which calls for several more public meetings in the coming months, along with interviews with stakeholders.
“The exact future of the site is still uncertain,” explained Mishauno Woggon of the Champaign Planning Department, “but the exciting thing is that we can return the land to public use.”
When asked whether the CCRCC’s turnout at the meeting would ensure a place for them in the final plan, Woggon said, “No decisions have been made, but the CCRCC have been very good stewards of the land, and it is likely that they will have continued use of the site.”
That should come as welcome news to club member Ron Bell, who was out flying his plane in the cold weather on New Year’s Day. He flies full-sized planes as well, but that doesn’t dampen his excitement for remote control aircraft and the wide-open space offered at the landfill.
Laughing, Bell said, “If I did some of the things in a real plane that I do with my RC, I’d be dead by now.”
Adds fellow CCRCC member Bob Glasa, “Yeah, the wrecks are a lot easier to walk away from.”