By Emily Harrington
Noel Park is one of the hidden gems of the Champaign Park District system.
We probably say that a lot. But in this case, it’s definitely true. Mainly, because Noel Park is one of those places that you won’t find if you don’t know where it is.
Noel is a neighborhood park in every sense of the word. The actual playground is pretty much hidden from street view. You can access the park from a couple of paths on Galen Drive (no street parking) and Sterling Drive (off Galen), as well a path from Salisbury Street (also off Galen). The actual address is 1110A Sterling Drive. It’s a large island of land that is anchored in a lovely established neighborhood.
The Champaign Park District performed a playground replacement for Noel in 2019. In a one-of-a-kind situation, the project contractor became the owner of the excavated equipment. He graciously repurposed the gently used equipment. Noel got brand new equipment, and a local school received a needed playground refresh. A perfect marriage.
–pathways. Weaving all around Noel Park are many interconnected sidewalks. These pathways lead into the adjacent neighborhoods, past numerous backyards, and even out to Prospect Ave. The CPD also added a walking path to make sidewalks in the north end of the park connect, resulting in greater pedestrian accessibility and improved circulation.
–unique playground pieces. The pieces are new. There are two main structures. Now, I’ve been to every park in town, and I’ve reviewed many. This particular brand of equipment is different than the majority of the pieces in CPD parks. These were sourced from the Little Tike Commercial brand. More about them below.
–mature trees. The land was obtained by the Park District in the 80s, so it has had time to mature. There are many large trees. These canopies provide beauty in the fall/shade in the summer.
–seating. There are benches and picnic tables around the playground.
–a baseball field. A weedy field is a short distance from the playground. Some Kiwanis T-ball games and practices are held here. If you have older kids, I would say it’s safe to be at the field while they are at the playground, but for littler ones, you wouldn’t be within earshot or even in their line of sight.
–an unlined soccer field. This isn’t a programmed field. It’s available for fun, unstructured games.
Back to the new play equipment. Each structure has a peaked canopy. The large structure has two twisty slides and a twisty tube slide. There is also a bongo and a short rock wall. The little area has dueling slides, a wavy slide, a gear machine, a wheel and an alphabet and number game with braille etched under each character. A short, arched climbing bar provides another access point to the tot area. There’s an enlarged sandbox with lost trucks and sand toys — similar to Clark Park. A mini backhoe with a seat and maneuverable handles is a permanent fixture in the middle of the sandbox. There is also a baby swing and traditional belt swings.
You’ll find a Little Tikes version of the parent-child swing. This swing is basically the amalgamation of a regular belt swing and a toddler bucket swing. You get to face and interact with each other instead of staring at their back while you push them. The parent “pumps” their legs to increase momentum, and the kids giggle in delight. You’ll see a similar version at Colbert and Hessel Parks.
Noel also has a modern merry-go-round. You can stand on the back, or you can sit traditionally. (If standing, make sure your kids are holding on tight. The momentum can make it hard to hold on. Sadly, my girlfriend’s kiddo broke his femur from this.) One or all riders can control the speed from a wheel in the middle. A 4-D web crawler is probably the most unique of the pieces. Basically, ropes weave a huge spider web. These webs are spun from four different points in the ground. You’ll also find lots of climbing pieces, monkey bars and stools to hop around on. They never have to touch the mulch base (or lava in our house) if they don’t want to. The equipment is strategically placed so they can climb, hop or swing from one piece to another.
Tips for Your Trip from Other Parents
- Be prepared for your kids to get in sand. There is a large, rectangular sandbox with very tempting toys. This means have a change of clothes, or you can just accept your car will get sandy.
- Bring your walking shoes. You’ll probably park on Sterling Drive, where it’s still a bit of a trek to the actual playground. Make it easier by bringing a bike, hoverboard, stroller or unicycle.
- Pack drinks for your visit. There are no water fountains.
- Potty before you come. There may be portable potties positioned in the warmer months. However, when we visited there were not.
Is this park good for toddlers?
Yes, there are two structures. The smaller structure would be appropriate for a preschooler (ages 2 to 5). The small structure has climbing bars, interactive games and slides. These all sit low to the ground. Nearby, there are swings for little ones.
The larger structure is rated for school kids (ages 5 to 12).
What amenities are offered?
Noel Park offers many amenities, including:
- central location/accessibility. Galen Drive can easily be accessed from Prospect Avenue or Windsor Road, right in the center of town.
- one-stop-shop. There are so many different areas of activity here. So many opportunities to bat, bike, hit, kick or skate.
- privacy. This park is very secluded. You aren’t even seen from the main roads. It’s peaceful.
- sandbox with abandoned/donated/lost toys.
- no crowds (with the exception of periodic groups of kids from nearby Next Generation school). If you are a repeat visitor, I think you’ll find you see a lot of regulars — neighbors who frequent the park. This provides a lot of potential to make regular friends and subsequent playdates.
Are there bathrooms?
No. There are lots of nice neighbors, however.
Are there picnic tables and grills?
Yes to picnic tables. No grills. However, you are so close to many backyards… while you are asking to use the bathroom, maybe you can throw some meat on their grill?
Is there any shade?
Yes! The park is pretty woody in some areas, and there are lots of mature trees. However, the actual playground area is not shaded except for the small peaked canopies over the main structures.
When is this park open?
Dawn to dusk
What is parking like?
You can enter the park from Galen Drive, Salisbury Street, and Sterling Drive. Sterling Drive allows by far the closest parking to the green space of the park, if not to the playground. The Galen and Salisbury entrances are closer to the playground, but parking is more difficult here (only allowed on Salisbury) and there’s a walk on sidewalk paths to get to the actual park — it’s lovely if you are pushing a stroller!
This is a park you have probably driven by a million times. Next time stop to take a park break. This spot is worth the visit!
Parent’s Guide to Colbert Park | Parent’s Guide to Hessel Park | Parent’s Guide to Henry Michael Park | Parent’s Guide to Carle Park | Parent’s Guide to West Side Park | Parent’s Guide to Meadowbrook Park | Parent’s Guide to Commissioners Park | Parent’s Guide to Crystal Lake Park | Parent’s Guide to Morrissey Park
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.