Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Kaufman Lake, Champaign


Kaufman Lake 


2702 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign

A wooden sign stating Kaufman Lake

Photo by Maddie Rice. 
A picture of railroad tracks next to Kaufman Lake park

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


This park and lake was donated to Champaign Park District some 50 years back by Josephine and Stanley Kaufman, who offered the land, along with Joan Swartz, who offered the lake. This is a solid partnership in giving. You’d love to hear them speak on it, while it was happening, over a snifter of brandy, or a fine cigarette. Maybe both? I am sure it was a robust discussion about the nature of nature and the nature of donorship. Thank you for making it happen, Josephine and Joan! We all know Stanley was probably like “That sounds good to me, ladies — now, back to the parlor for some more parcheesi!” 

Here and now, there is a lot to celebrate about Kaufman Lake, which is situated in the west part of Champaign, off Springfield Ave. and between Mattis and Duncan. There is a great walking path, which if you’ve been following along, you know I love. There’s fishing too — which for me, is a hallmark of being alive and feeling useful. You can put your remote controlled boat out there to give it a spin, but watch out for those in a kayak or a canoe, because that’s permitted as well. And that is great, too! 

For me, this has some personal attention, because the Eastern Illinois Community Foundation, along with Champaign Parks Foundation, honored Bobbie Herakovich, the former Executive Director of CPD between 2001 – 2013, with a plaque and a dedication of Possibility Pier in her honor: 

a picture of a plaque called Possibility Pier honoring Bobbie Herakovich

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

Hey, Bobbie Herakovich is my Auntie Bobbie! She’s amazing and I love her so much. Sometimes we used to sort of spar about things, but only in a lighthearted way. Now, I just look up to her as such an amazing inspiration to me, and to the community. She accomplished a lot in her time working inside of park districts, first in Urbana, then in Palm Beach in Florida, and finally, as Executive Director of Champaign Park District. 

But of everything she created in concert with her team, it will be the Virginia Theater that is her lasting legacy. There will come a time, sooner than later, it would seem, that the only places where you and will be able to go see a movie on the silver screen, and buy popcorn and a soda, and be whisked away on a cinematic adventure, will be inside the walls of publicly funded theaters, designed to preserve and maintain something dear to anyone who has ever been alive and had the luxury of experiencing such a thing. Films bind us, and they make us feel human. One of our greatest exports, Roger Ebert, was known as a champion to this idea a few times. 

A picture of the edge of Kaufman Lake

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


The best part of Kaufman Lake for me is the amazing art that has been created and is on display under the I-72 bridge at the north end of the park. Regardless of whatever some people believe about “graffiti” — it is part of the language of the streets, and that is where the best art is defined and perpetuated. 

A picture of graffiti art under a bridge

Photo by Maddie Rice.

This picture is intentionally just a small slice of it. At some point during Year of the Park, we will display more of it, and try to unpack a bit more about how this sort of thing could be better integrated into more parks, and in a lot of different ways. 

Beyond that, this is just a good place to feel human, honestly. I’ve enjoyed myself each time I’ve made the trip. It’s certainly more of a “destination” park than a neighborhood park, despite the fact that there are a lot of people living within close distance. But it is a remarkable use of space, and a piece of land that is valuable, and worthy of your attention. 

Top Image by Maddie Rice. 

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