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 more like August or September 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 info@smilepolitely.com.

NAME

McCollum Park 

LOCATION

1060 S. Neil, Champaign

a close up of the head of a steel peacock sculpture Photo by Maddie Rice. 

HISTORY AND FEATURES

This is a park named for the McCollum family, who you may or may not have heard of, if you have lived in Champaign long enough. Dannel was the Mayor of Champaign for 12 years, between 1987 and 1999. I suspect this is who this park was named for. He still lives in Downtown Champaign and keeps a helluva garden! 

But who it should also be named for is his mother, Vashti McCollum. If you have never read or seen anything about her, you should. 

You should know that the sacred space between the Chuch and State Funded Public Schools is secure because of her bravery. You should know that this happened here. You can read a book about it, or watch a documentary film about it

I love this factoid about Champaign-Urbana. I love it so much that my wife and I commissioned Langston Allston to commemorate her (along with my childhood librarian, Dorothy Vickers-Shelley) on the side of our home. Public art! It does wonders. 

And this park features some weird, irreverent public art. A scultpure, to be sure, of a blue ass peacock. I don't understand why it's there, but I like it. It is the work of Jim Gladney and Phil Dodd, who also did the Hazel Park entrance, and the hippos in Sholem Pool. I see this peacock, and I think to myself, that's weird, I like it. You can see a close up of its head above. 

More of that please. 

ASSESSMENT

This is another of those "Mini Park" things that they implemented in the 1980s and 1990s here in Champaign that has since been renamed in honor of someone or some family that did something important in town throughout history. 

Hey, that is a good thing, and I think it is nice. 

But this is not a park. This is a strip of manicured grass that we collectively pay to mow that exists alongside a massive railroad. There is no possible way to get to the park. And even if there were a crosswalk to it, you wouldn't go to this park unless you were strung out on uppers and decided that it was time to check out. And if you were in that position, it would be a good thing if you could instead go to a publicly funded facility that would care for you. It would be a positive thing for a city of this size to prioritize and take care of its most vulnerable citizens. But we don't do that either. 

Anyhow, no, you or I would not go to this park, because it is simply not a place where a well human would go. It is a long patch of grass that is next to a national railroad, with a big ass steel peacock in it. 

a freight train passes along a railroad Photo by Maddie Rice. 

That is all. 

Recently, in some comments about why there are weird random parks in weird places, people on Twitter have posited that the reason they exist is simply as a function to ticket speeders at higher costs, or to increase the charges on drug offenses. 

I have heard about this idea for years, and it made sense to me. Of course the government is out to get us, and wants to do us harm. They frequently do, particularly if you do not look like me or identify the way I do. Goddamnit. The government! 

But turns out, it's hooey. At least locally. 

I asked State's Attorney Julia Rietz about it. I asked her, "Do you prosecute drug offenders at a higher charge for being close to a park? What about traffic tickets? Are they more expensive if you get pinged for speeding near a park?"

She answered: "There is nothing in the law that increases penalties for speeding in the vicinity of public parks. There is also nothing in the law that increases penalties for possession of drugs in or near public parks. Illinois law does allow for increased penalties for selling drugs in or near public parks as well as in or near schools, day cares, religious centers, or nursing homes. Really, there is no place in Champaign that is not in the vicinity of some sort of place that by statute allows for increasing penalties for selling drugs. However, we exercise discretion in whether or not we apply those increased penalties. I prefer to consider our mini parks as a way to beautify our community rather than a way to address crime."

So there you have it, y'all. State's Attorney Julia Rietz giving a very rational answer about a rumor that has persisted for years. That should shut the door on it. It certainly does for me. 

Beyond that, McCollum Park is not a park. It is just a strip of land that is called a park for reasons we cannot truly understand or know about, lest we seance the ghost of Robert Toalson. I realize it is a shared agreement with the City of Champaign for maintenance, but as I am a big fan of curation, I think it should just be... nothing. A place for a peacock is good enough. 

Glad we honored the name McCollum though. Sad we did it in this way. Hope we do it better next time. 

Top image by Maddie Rice.