By Melinda Miller
Part of me doesn’t want to tell everyone about how awesome the new Champaign Park District park is because, right now, it feels a bit like our own, private park when I go there and it’s practically empty. But, eventually, word will get out anyway and we’ll have to share. Plus, there are also so many other great features of the Robert C. Porter Family Park that I can’t wait to tell everyone about!
The first thing you’ll notice when you visit Porter Park at the corner of Windsor and Rising roads in Southwest Champaign is the size. The actual park is about 38 acres, which is large for our local parks in general. But, in addition to its actual acreage, this park feels even larger for a few distinct reasons. First, the park is currently still bordered to the west by open fields, giving you the feeling of being out in the country right at the edge of town. But more notable is the park’s own wide, open spaces. The majority of the park will maintain a prairie look with native grasses. You and your family can imagine you’re wandering through the prairie of Illinois’ past with the convenience of paved paths!
Speaking of the paved paths, this park offers lots of them. The outer loop is only about a half a mile (the park district will eventually post actual measurement markers) but there are also lots of interior connecting paths that allow you to run, walk, bike, or skate for a number of miles without tracing a repetitive cycle. This makes it an ideal, safe place for young riders just learning to bike or skate. The paths also appear to be very easily navigated by individuals in wheelchairs or with other disabilities, so everyone can enjoy this natural space together.
Accessibility concerns were addressed throughout the planning of the entire park — including the very best part, the great new playground! The playground areas continue the theme of natural spaces with a traditional play structure surrounded by real rocks and hills that are great fun to climb on, too! Features that make the space enjoyable for children with disabilities include an accessible swing, finger labyrinth, and lots of other touch-and-feel surprises all over. Children will also enjoy the chance to scale, balance, slide, and conquer a number of playground obstacles that are more challenging than play features found in many other parks. These include a rope bridge, rock-climbing wall, unstable steps, and giant “rock” to walk across (which, admittedly, provided a bit of a balancing challenge for this adult!).
Porter Park also has a pavilion with picnic tables for a great place to have a relaxing lunch, family get-together, or even a small birthday party. The small pond just south of the playground completes the natural area with a water feature. The pond also serves as an overflow for the Copper Slough (which borders the south end of the 38 acres) so it will not be stocked for fishing. However, two docks (one at water level and one above) are both also very accessible and give your family another chance to get a little closer to nature right in Champaign.
Know before you go
Before you go, remember that there are no bathroom facilities at this park. Since it’s surrounded by residential development, there also isn’t a store or restaurant to run into if you or your child should need one while you’re visiting. I also didn’t see any water fountains, yet. So, bring your own juice boxes or water bottles if you plan on staying and playing for a while. Finally, make sure your little ones wear the appropriate shoes. All of the rocks, grasses, and climbing really call for tennis shoes rather than flip flops or sandals if you want to get the most enjoyment out of all the park offers. (I learned this one the hard way!)
I hope you and your family get to visit the latest addition to the Champaign Park District soon and I hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I have so far.
We’ll see you there!
Melinda Miller came to Champaign-Urbana in 1999 to attend the University of Illinois and is happily “stuck” here now that she is aunt to five other Champaign County residents (ranging in age from 1 to 13) who let her experience the joys of our community through their eyes on a regular basis.