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 [email protected]

NAME

Meadowbrook Park 

LOCATION

2808 S. Race St., Urbana

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

HISTORY AND FEATURES

There is no point in my writing a history of Meadowbrook Park. Everything you would ever need to know has already been written right here. Dana Mancuso, who spent years working at the Urbana Park District, penned A century of growth: the Urbana Park District’s first 100 years in 2007, and this is all from that. 

Again: link here. Read it. It is worth your time if you have any interest in learning more about how Meadowbrook Park came to be. 

The features of Meadowbrook Park are vast: a river — sorry, a brook — runs through it. There are beavers in this park, for chrissakes. There are woodchucks. And deer run wild. You can hardly spend 15 minutes in this park without seeing one. 

There is the greatest playground ever constructed in this city at PrairiePlay, which is slated to be torn down and redeveloped in 2023 now. Frankly, it is a move I disagree with and strongly. I do not, and will not, ever understand why humans continuously deconstruct in order to reconstruct. There are times that it works, and there are times where it is a fool's errand. This is one of those times, in my opinion. Whatever would need to be done to reinforce it, and keep it in place to create new memories for generations to share exists inside of the budget to rebuild it. You can't tear down history and expect people to fall in love all over again every time. C'est la vie. I'm not mad about it, just disappointed. 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

Regardless, that does not dissolve the value of this park, not in any way, in my view. Kids will have a new playground to mess around on. It's fine, in the grand scheme of things. There's so much more: 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 
 

The Wandell Sculpture Garden, which is more of a "walk" is the only real display of public art worth sending anyone to in Champaign-Urbana, right now. Krannert Art Museum and Spurlock Museum (which is more historical artifacts) get that nod as well, but, as far as parks and public displays worthy of sending an out of town guest to, the Wandell Sculpture Garden wins in that category. I can safely suggest to friends and family visiting that at literally any time of year, this is something worth seeing. It is remarkable. And it costs money, but since you can't take it with you, what else are we spending it on? Certainly not the police! 

Photo by Tim Bailey.

Spomer Prairie is worth mentioning here. It's worth mentioning because of how much Billie and Art Spomer meant to me, sure, but it's also a reminder that you can choose to donate money after you pass away to things that will serve the community you surrounded for decades, and maybe centuries, to follow. Billie and Art Spomer designated money to preserve and create space for restored prairie inside of Meadowbrook Park. They were our friends, and their children are people I love. This is what it means to invest in your community. Consider it. 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

What else? Oh, there's more: Meadowbrook Organic Garden Program are community gardens that flank the entrance off Race St. These are the oldest gardens of its kind in the city. Since 1975, you can rent a plot of the richest soil in North America (don't challenge me here, I don't care what anyone else says, Urbana has the best soil in America, I don't need evidence!) and grow almost anything your heart desires. Can you grow marijuana? Yes, you can, but I think you might go to jail. Maybe you should spend a night in jail? It will do wonders for your perspective. I promise. I spent a night in jail for carrying marijuana. But I am a white man who came from a decent home so it wasn't the sort of thing that ruined my life. Still though, I got cuffed, and went to the tank for weed. Part of my story... let's keep fighting to get everyone still in the cells out for such a racially unjust charge. 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

Moving on! What else? Oh, the Prairie Overlook, which is perhaps my favorite place in all of Champaign-Urbana. Here is more about it, from the work Ms. Mancuso put in her book: 

South Urbana resident and former UPDAC member, Eric Freyfogle, made a donation to the district in 1999 to construct an overlook that would allow for more of a bird’s-eye view of the prairie. It is an accessible structure, complete with interpretive information about the plants and forbs you find in the park.

Just go and see some time, eh? Have you seen a sunset from this structure? The vast prairie? You haven't? OK, change that, like, immediately. It is so worth your time. 

 
Photo by Tim Bailey.

Meadowbrook Park hosts events: Strawberry Jam, which, you guessed it, has a lot of activities surrounding the strawberry, and usually has artists playing mostly original music. That's the best music.

Jazz Walk, which allows you to literally walk a portion of the 4.1 path and stop to listen to local jazz artists do their thing. Is it a smoky, dank, opium-laced night club where the best jazz in the world is seen and heard? No it is not. But it is a remarkable experience, considering where we live, and what sort of access to these things we have. I love Jazz Walk. It is something I adore. 

A few years back, when the Urbana Business Association was still a thing, they were hosting Uncorked, a wine party for people to enjoy both nature and fermented grape juice from near and far. This is a good thing. 

Jesus Christ, I am exhausted writing all of this out, to be honest with you. Do you really not know all of this stuff about Meadowbrook Park? Spoiler Alert: this park will be Top 3, if not Number 1 when it's time to finally run it all down. 

It's just that special. 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

ASSESSMENT

See above. It's the probably the best park in Champaign-Urbana. It's the result of planning and investment. And it makes all of our lives that much better. The fact that it is actually due east of Savoy is ironic to me. How you can drive just three miles west and run into a "village" that has actively fought against building and maintaining decent parks in a city-metro area that needs them more than just about anyone else is beyond comprehension. 

Let it be a reminder: those who actively work to dissolve and decrease spending on public amenities are not playing with a full deck. They are selfish, and have no interest in what community looks like. They are members of their own private estate. They can live there, and they will die there, and no one will be better off for it. 

I am grateful for everyone who ever put time, money, or effort into making this park a reality. That is it in Urbana, and not Champaign, should come as no surprise. 

Photo by Tim Bailey.

Yes, this park defines Urbana now. It used to be different, and now, it's changed. This is what exceptional progress looks like. This is why Urbana Park District gets to win the awards it wins.

Top image by Tim Bailey.