As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and July 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].
1209 N. Neil St., Champaign
HISTORY AND FEATURES
Hazel Park sits at the very busy intersection of Bradley Ave. and Neil St. in between the I-74 interchange and Downtown Champaign. By all accounts, it is a fairly underutilized park simply based on its location, and because there is no parking lot or deeply unique amenities that would attract people from out of the neighborhood to be there.
But it is quite a nice space, all things told, as it features two “small” full basketball courts, a playground, a soccer pitch, a backstop, and a nice sculpture called “Stanchion” by an artist named Dan Perry. It was donated to the park by the Public Art League, who truly do great work in our community, and this particular piece was acquired through the generosity of the Barham Benefit Group, which is the most generous organization in the history of Champaign-Urbana, according to at least one person familiar with it. The veracity of that claim is with our fact checkers, but it has been stated!
But the real story here is who the park is named for: Hazel Iungerich, who led our community in establishing and successfully executing the first “Champaign Recreation Department” which merged with the Park District in 1967. She spent thirty years on the Park Board, and retired from that position just a few months before she passed away.
One of our readers sent in a photocopy of her obituary from the News-Gazette in September of 1969, and I’ll just go ahead and paste it here so you can read more about her. Fact is, she was not only well regarded in this community, but made enough of an impact that she was recognized nationally as well, being listed in “Who’s Who in American Women” as well as in the international publication “Dictionary of International Biography” published in England in 1964. Hey hey, that’s pretty great!
Photocopy from News-Gazette Archives.
It is a very good thing that this park exists where it does, as it sits squarely in an area of town that has been historically neglected by city leadership, so we have the Park District to thank for doing its best to at least provide some sense of space and community at this intersection.
Outside of a particular woman who rollerskates while tossing around an unlit fire stick, and the local ballers who come out in the summer to posterize one another, there’s not a ton of activity happening in Hazel Park for the reasons I’ve listed above. There’s no parking on site, which is totally fine of course, but as a result, park district sponsored sports or activities would be hard to pull off.
I think it’s still a nice playground for kids and a good spot for people who like to play sports to come out to do so. And hey, look here! They painted permanent hopscotch challenges on the sidewalk that leads past the playground, and that is a nice thing. I taught my son to do the game here, and it was fun.
While the park may be unassuming, and hard to access for those not living within walking distance, it’s never a bad thing to take yourself over to a new spot to just feel like you did something different for once. Maybe that can be something you do this winter, when it snows? Or perhaps wait until spring or summer, and you can lay out in the warm sun? Nevermind the busy intersection; that’s just part of living in a city.