5 reasons we are thankful for Urbana Parks

As fall draws closer to winter, the warmth of the holidays helps us keep the chilly temperatures at bay. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we would like to take a moment to show gratitude to our community and explore five reasons we are thankful for Urbana Parks.

1. Nature

First of all, we are thankful for green spaces, shady trees, colorful flower beds, and beautiful open meadows. Our extensive network of parks in Urbana brings nature into the heart of our community and gives us numerous places to recharge and connect with the environment. There are so many different ways to enjoy nature, from open fields for a rousing game of tag, to walking paths through woods and prairies. Our parks don’t just bring the flora, but the fauna too. At the Anita Purves Nature Center, we can learn all about local wildlife and see or even listen to them in action.

Access to nature is so important to both physical and mental well-being. With pockets of green spaces all over town through our parks both large and small, we are thankful for the variety the parks add to our community landscape.

2. Safety

This year has been plagued by uncertainty and a very real danger in the form of COVID-19. We found ourselves cooped up, routines shattered, and unsure how or if we can interact with our community safely. Fortunately, our parks were there— taking on a whole new importance in providing a safe place to play and congregate (at a safe distance) throughout this pandemic. After being cooped up in the initial days or weeks of quarantine (and the tail end of winter), many of us were anxious to get outside for a change of scenery.

We were all in need of socializing, but our kids in particular. Finding safe ways to get together was made easier in our parks, where we could get together with friends and family, but still maintain a safe distance (and get some fresh air!). Parks gave us a space to walk together, fly kites, play soccer, and find ways to spend time together even when safety dictates we should spread out.

3. Art

From sculptures around town to indoor exhibits (both in person and virtual), Urbana parks have also made our days more colorful and beautiful with more than trees and flowers. Before the shutdown, we were treated to lush images of birds, wildlife, and landscapes by two local photographers at the Life and Land exhibit, held at the Anita Purves Nature Center. Fortunately, the Crystal Lake Art Fair—a partnership with 40 North begun in 2019—did not become a complete COVID casualty, with a Virtual Art Fair held on August 8, featuring local artists. This fall, the Urbana Park District partnered again with 40 North, as well as the Champaign Park District, Urbana Arts and Culture Program, and Spurlock Museum for The Great ARTdoors. Juried displays were created by 10 area artists for 10 local parks, appearing through November 20.

We are also thankful for the Urbana Park District’s commitment to making art accessible to those who can get out for a walk around town and those stuck inside or facing limited mobility through the Arts & Sculpture tour. Through an interactive map, we can plan out a walking or driving tour to see nearly 50 fascinating sculptures around town. Visitors can also use the map to view images of the sculptures from the comfort of their own home.

4. Creative activities in these unprecedented times

This has been a heavy year, full of heartbreaking decisions and cancellations. None of the decisions were taken lightly, and the closures were hard on park district staff, volunteers, and participants. Nonetheless, we are incredibly thankful for the creative ways the Urbana Park District has stepped up and continued to provide activities and enrichment to our community throughout the year. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • By far the most popular offering was the Urbana Park District Boredom Buster Bags, full of activities to help get kids through the summer under the burden of social distancing. Outreach staff handed out 600 bags and even created Urvana—a mobile recreation unit that brough fun activities around town safely.
  • Wellness staff put together tips on staying active during quarantine and even created exercise videos for people to follow along at home.
  • The Power of the Parks Virtual 5k drew over 200 runners, walkers, and skaters who completed the 5k in their own time and space during the second and third week of July.
  • Community Programs staff offered a wide variety of virtual programs, including cooking classes, an American Sign Language class, and a Sculpture in a Bag contest for local kids.
  • The Anita Purves Nature Center adapted nature and gardening programs to a safer digital format with virtual hikes and organic gardening classes made available on social media.

5. Community

All of the above comes together in what is surely the most valuable contribution of the Urbana Park District: their tireless efforts to build and maintain community, even when we need to keep a physical distance. The creativity, hard work, and dedication they have devoted is truly inspiring. While our first association with parks might be trees and green spaces, the other pillar of the value parks bring us is the human connections they make possible. The Urbana Park District brings us together and gives us so many different chances to connect, build relationships, learn, grow, move, and support one another. And for this we are truly thankful.

The Urbana Parks Foundation was established in 2007 to help meet the growing need for supplemental support by raising funds for district activities. A donation to UPF helps to enhance the quality of life in Urbana through recreation, leisure, and neighborhood-based park activities that promote the health and wellness of all residents. Your donation helps provide affordable, accessible programs that bring the whole community together – into our parks – and gives them great reasons to stay and play for a lifetime. To learn more or to make a donation please click here.