We’ve updated our Guide to Spring for 2016! If you want to know the best places to go this spring, we’ve come up with a list of our top five.
If you want to learn more about events this spring, give our Guide to Spring Events a look.
We’re now about a week and a half into spring. Outside the flowers are blooming, the grass is lush and green, and the trees are beginning to show some signs of awakening from their winter hibernation. So pull out your bike and, after months spent hidden inside, allowing your body to lie fallow, rediscover how nice it is to be outside in Champaign-Urbana.
The criteria for our selection of the top 5 places are the following:
- Any location selected is within biking distance of C-U.
- Locations selected are not just nice, but offer something that will help you to enjoy spring.
1. University of Illinois Arboretum
The word arboretum refers to a collection of trees, but here at U of I, it’s essentially a botanical garden. Not only does it have a beautiful pond, walking trails, and a number of different gardens, it’s also home to the UIUC’s Japan House.
The purpose of the Japan House is to give C-U some exposure to Japanese culture and foster intercultural understanding. They have a lot of interesting events that are scheduled regularly including Ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arrangement), tea ceremony, and calligraphy, as well as occasional workshops on meditation and Japanese cooking. Check out their calendar to see what activities are lined up this spring. They tend to have 2-3 events a week. It’s also home to various Japanese gardens open from dawn ’til dusk.
2. C-U Neighborhood Parks: Clark Park, Noel Park, and Carle Park
So maybe we’re cheating by including this as just one entry, but I see these three parks as three examples of the same phenomenon: quiet parks, nestled between low-traffic streets and beautiful houses, that are well integrated within the community around them. Some of these parks are lesser known—particularly to students—but they’re well worth the ride.
So why are these parks places that are especially interesting during the spring? It’s because they’re each a part of a neighborhood and not a separate entity. They’re meeting places for people. These are locations where people don’t just play sports or have some contact with the natural world, but spaces that allow for the strengthening of a sense of community that’s missing in so many American neighborhoods. As spring marks the season when people again start to frequent parks, you can see the restoration of these processes, with new connections being built and old ones being reawakened.
Situated in Champaign between Daniel and Charles, a few blocks west of Prospect, Clark Park has everything. It has tennis courts, a basketball court, a picnic area, tree-covered areas, open spaces, playground equipment, and a sandbox full of toys provided by local residents. It’s been around since 1909 and provides the perfect space to spend some time with your friends or family.
Noel Park, located southwest of Windsor and Prospect, is a 10-acre park nearly entirely circumscribed by houses, barely connected to any street. No park in C-U is better integrated physically into its community, with many backyards blending in seamlessly with the park. Other houses, not located directly on the park are connected by a series of paved footpaths, emerging from the park like wooded tendrils and embracing the neighborhood. To me, Noel Park is the kind of park that you dream of existing but never find. There are facilities for soccer, picnicking, and a children’s playground. If you want to fly a kite, this is the place to go.
Carle Park is better known than the other two parks. Situated west of Urban High School, Carle Park boasts some of the most impressive trees you’ll see in C-U. If you’re interested in knowing what types of trees they have, there’s a tree map showing which type of tree is where. It could be a great activity to take your kid to Carle Park and talk about how and when different types of trees cycle out of winter dormancy. They also have a soccer field and a really great set of playground equipment. If you’re interested in architecture, check out the Erlanger House, at 303 W. Indiana Ave on the south edge of the park . Designed in the International Style, the Erlanger House now hosts UIUC’s artists-in-residence.
Honorable Mention: Mayfair Park – Though relatively small, it’s a great neighborhood park with open space, playground equipment, and a picnic area. Located in residential Champaign, east of Mattis, it’s a favorite place of mine to stop for water while on a ride through Champaign (often ending in Noel Park).
3. Plant Biology Greenhouse, University of Illinois
Not every day in spring will be ideal for activities outdoors. Sometimes it’ll be cold. Sometimes it’ll be rainy. But thanks to to the Plant Biology Greenhouse, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use those days to enjoy the flourishing of plant-life that spring brings.
The greenhouses are located in the Plant Sciences Laboratory, east of the South Quad, and open to the public Monday-Friday, from 8:30-4:30. In their main greenhouse, you’ll find coffee and banana trees amongst the lush tropical vegetation. Moving beyond this, you’ll find themed rooms with—among other plants—orchids, desert plants, and carnivorous plants. Yep, here you can see pitcher plants and venus fly traps! Moving on, you can go into greenhouses used for scientific research by the university. You can’t enter these rooms, but you can see them from hallways and the central corridor.
I’ve written about Allerton in the past in Neutral’s Guide to Fall. Allerton is certainly great in every season. I’ve been there both when covered by almost a foot of snow as well as on sweltering July days. While those times were nice, I think Allerton is at its best during the transitional seasons.
In spring, Allerton offers a great venue to see the blooming of local wildflowers. Allerton’s peony garden is another reason to go; they’ve got loads of different species and cultivars that allow you to see the massive variety in blooms that this plant produces. Generally the height of the blooming is during the end of May. Check their calendar to see when it’s going to happen this year.
If you have the time and inclination, I suggest that you take a few trips to Allerton during spring to see how the season develops. You can see the changes in the flora as they slowly come back to life, listen to the birds on one of the hiking trails, and enjoy the relatively temperate weather. It’s about 30 miles away from C-U, meaning that Allerton provides the perfect day trip for a bike. Bike there in the morning, enjoy it during the afternoon, and bike home in the evening. You can bring your own food—they have grills—or stop for a bite to eat in Monticello, a picturesque example of a small Central Illinois town.
If you’re biking—or even if you’re driving, plan a route off of the main highways and you’ll get a lot more out of the experience. There are county roads crisscrossing the entire area between C-U and Allerton. One reason is that you’ll have less traffic to deal with. More importantly, though, you’ll get to see what Champaign and Piatt counties look like away from major roads and urban centers. You’ll see farms, fields, homesteads, groves, and small settlements. The best part, though, I think, is the quietness you can find in these places. It’s nice to be able to hear nothing but the wind once in a while.
5. Busey Woods
Between the Urbana Country Club, Crystal Lake Park, Woodlawn Cemetery, and northeast Urbana neighborhoods, you’ll find Busey Woods, a 59-acre plot of land boasting trees, trails, wildflowers, and a small body of water. A large portion of it is subject to seasonal flooding, but this is no issue for interested visitors because these areas are covered by a boardwalk, ensuring that, even in the wettest of times, you won’t have to worry about water-sodden shoes. Nearby is the Anita Purves Nature Center, is worth a visit by both adults and children alike. Just please remember to not ride your bikes on the trails!