By Kristy Wilson
The weather is getting warmer, er, supposed to be warm at some point in time within the next few months, so I’ve started thinking about the places that I want to take the kids this spring/summer.
Many times when we venture out to places, even if they are parks, I try to make a morning of it and have an activity to do beyond the playground and end with a picnic lunch. If your kids are anything like mine, then constant activity throughout the day is important for all sleeping well at night! Below you will find eight great places to picnic in the CU area and why we like them. Don’t be fooled, this list can still be fun even if you don’t have little ones or don’t have them in tow.
1. Centennial Park: I like this area because it has so much to offer in a short walking distance. From the newer playground structure (mulch-free) located just outside Sholem Pool, to the public tennis courts, to the hill for kids to hike up and down (this activity would likely not be suitable for little ones under the age of 5 years without parental help due the steep incline), and finally Prairie Farms petting zoo (open annually from late May to mid-August). This park area offering any of the activities listed above can make for a great picnic pairing.
2. Colbert Park: This up-and-coming park recently added a new playground, which is quite awesome! One of its best features in my opinion is the tandem swing that is intended to allow youth with disabilities to swing with their parents; however, all families are able to thoroughly enjoy them. Beyond the playground there is a small pond filled with fish (we have seen people fishing here) and inhabited by ducks and geese, and a hill to get that last little bit of energy out. I was told by an employee at the Village of Savoy that there are continued plans for expansion. They are slated to build a sand volleyball court and a few other things over the course of the next few years.
3. Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center: This one is a bit more seasonal, but our family loved going to the pool on hot summer days and packing a picnic to eat in one of its two picnic areas. Food cannot be eaten on the pool decks, but there is a designated area at the top of the facility just through the gate and an area on the lower level as well where you can take a break and enjoy your food.
4. Fighting Illini sports events: As it starts to warm up a bit these are great activities for families to get out of the house. The best news: baseball, soccer, softball, tennis, track and cross country (amongst others) are all free to attend. There are plenty of areas at the different venues to spread out a blanket, take in the events, and enjoy a meal.
5. Helms Park/Scott Park: Both part of the Boneyard Creek area, these parks pair nicely for a picnic lunch. Kids can have the opportunity to play on the playground in Scott Park on the south side of Springfield Avenue, and then when everyone gets hungry you can venture over across Springfield (north) to Helms Park for a picnic amongst beautiful landscape. I do not recommend Helms Park for a picnic if you have little ones. It would be hard to manage multiple kids out in public as there are rocks that are great for climbing and a body of water that might be too enticing. However, we have our maternity photos taken here and the backdrop was amazing.
6. Porter Park: This is another park that offers a fishing opportunity fairly close to the play structure. This park would be perfect for a family that has older kids that like to fish and ones young enough that still want to swing and play on equipment. I love this park because while there is a lot of beautiful prairie flowers, grasses, etc., it has an area that is wide open and perfect for kite flying. On windy days we head to this park for some play time on the playground, a picnic lunch and a little kite flying! As a bonus, if you have a pup bring it along and make a stop at the Champaign Bark District just across the street to give him/her a bit of park time too.
7. The Quad: The summer is an awesome time to explore the University of Illinois with your kids primarily because many of the students are gone and it’s, well, enjoyable. The quad is a great place to bring a picnic and play a little Frisbee, explore the top 5 things to do on the quad as noted in the linked article, and enjoy viewing one of the summer movies that are often shown in the summer.
8. The Idea Garden/Arboretum: This is a great place to explore new plants and flowers with your kids — although be warned if you have little ones picking flowers can be very tempting. In addition, it makes for an amazing backdrop for photos. Bring a picnic lunch and a good camera and enjoy an opportunity to get pictures for your Christmas card!
So, there you have it. Definitely not a complete list by any means, but some of the places that we have really enjoyed in the past as well as some of the ones we are looking forward to trying this next month! What are some of your favorite picnic spots in CU that I missed?