The Urbana Park District was formed in 1907 with one park--Crystal Lake Park. It has since grown to include 22 parks and natural areas and several facilities.
Take a look at what we looked like in 1957 and see for yourself how we have grown.
Here is a little bit about our long history in the community and what we are working on today.
The initial drive to preserve and protect Urbana's green space was spearheaded by visionary J.K. Wallick in the early 1880s. As acre upon acre of trees were harvested for lumber for railroad ties and log cabins, Wallick quickly purchased 39 acres of the original "Big Grove" and created Urbana's first private park, known then as Union Park.
Union Park was advertised as "the most beautiful resort in the state for picnics and pleasure parties." Activities were plentiful and included steamboat rides, boating, ice skating and picnicking. The park also served as the meeting place for the first of many Chattaquas held in the state. People traveled from far distances to attend these festivities, which were highlighted by speakers including William Jennings Bryan, Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington and Captain Cook. In 1897, Mr. Wallick traded his park to Benjamin Swartz in exchange for an Indiana farm. The park was then renamed Crystal Lake Park.
The charge to create a park district began in 1902 under the leadership of University of Illinois agriculture professor, J.C. Blair and attorney Franklin H. Boggs. After two initial defeats, Urbana voters approved the creation of the district on October 7, 1907. The first commissioners elected to carry the program forward were Joseph C. Blair, David C. Busey, Justin S. Hall, Charles D. Rourke and Edward Buckbee.
In the district's first two years, the district received donations of land, including the 39 acre Crystal Lake Park. During the early years of the district, Crystal Lake Park was the focus of activity. On July 29, 1927, construction of the 800,000 gallon Crystal Lake Pool, the first pool in central Illinois, was completed. Five thousand people, many of whom traveled hundreds of miles, attended the opening festivities.
In the 30s and 40s, the park and pool were so popular that reservations for picnic tables were made months in advance. Others followed the tradition of giving and Leal and Carle Parks were donated to the district. As Urbana grew and prospered, The Urbana Park District had five parks totaling 114 acres.
These three decades were intensive periods of land acquisition and development as the need to preserve future open space became apparent, Lohmann, Patterson, Prairie, Woodland and portions of Meadowbrook and King parks, as well as additional land for Victory Park, were acquired during the 1960s.
In the 1970s, the Board of Commissioners, faced with a growing and changing population, implemented the first citizen advisory committee in the state of Illinois (known as the Urbana Park District Advisory Committee or UPDAC.) With UPDAC's assistance, the district again grew and prospered. The Mini-Park, Chief Shemauger, Busey Woods, Wheatfield, Crestview, and additions to Meadowbrook, Victory and King Parks were acquired. In 1972, the district passed two tax increase referenda that allowed for the operation and maintenance of the district's first recreation center and expanded programs. Construction of the Anita Purves Nature Center was completed in 1979.
An additional 28 acres were added to the district during the 1980s and many parks were furnished with new park amenities. The construction of the new Crystal Lake Pool, in its old site, was complete in 1980. In 1986 a complete overhaul of Crystal Lake at a cost of $1 million and the construction of the Lake House in Crystal Lake Park were completed.
In 1992, the district learned that its 75-year-old- recreation center was structurally unsound and was immediately closed. What followed was an opportunity for the district's board and staff to take a thorough look at the District and its future. Three major projects were identified and pursued. These included replacement of the recreation center, renovation and expansion of the Anita Purves Nature Center and the development of the 130 acre Meadowbrook Park.
In order to accomplish these projects, the district deemed it necessary to hold a general fund referendum. If the referendum failed, the district would be unable to complete its outlined projects. Community support was overwhelming, and the referendum passed by a two to one margin. The Anita Purves Nature Center reopened in August 1995. The Phillips Recreation Center opened in September 1996, and extensive development of Meadowbrook park is nearing completion (fall 1998.)
1997 marked the 90th anniversary of the Urbana Park District. As we enter a new century, the board and staff are proud of the district's accomplishments and are eager to continue to serve the people of Urbana by providing the finest in parks and recreation programming.
In 1998, the Wandell Sculpture Garden was created in Meadowbrook Park. Ten large scale sculptures were placed amid 60 acres of recreated Illinois tallgrass prairie. Hard trails lead you past the pieces. A 9-hole disc golf course was created in Lohmann Park.
In 2000, the district opened an indoor miniature golf course inside Urbana's Lincoln Square Mall and added more sculpture, bringing the total number of pieces to 15.
After citizens came to the Board of Commissioners expressing their desire to work with the district to create a park where dogs could run off lead, plans were developed for a 10-acre dog park, on land adjacent to the Judge Webber Park site. Land was leased from the local sanitary district and the park opened in 2003. The Urbana Park District and School District worked jointly on the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center, which opened in 2003. This facility is located at the Urbana Middle School campus and boasts two water slides and two pools-one for recreation and one for competition.
Successful referendums in latter part of the decade led to the ability to take care of what we have and to replace the outdated Crystal Lake Pool. The park district moved ahead with improvements to infrastructure and began an active playground replacement program. In 2013, Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center opened in place of Crystal Lake Pool. It features a climbing wall, vortex, zero-depth entry, waterslides, sand play and more.
2015 and beyond
The park district is completing a trails plan, which will be implemented over time as funding allows. Plans are being developed for more improvements at the north end of Crystal Lake Park. The district is working to improve stream habitat in Douglas Creek in Meadowbrook Park and investigating ways to improve the health of Crystal Lake.
You help shape the Urbana Park District's future. The Urbana Park District continues to grow and change in response to its citizens. By serving on our advisory committee, giving volunteer time, donating money for a sculpture or tree, and letting us know the types of programs you want, you make the Urbana Park District your Park District.