Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Ambucs Park, Urbana

As Year of the Park begins, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends, between July 2020 and July 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions, ideas, or feedback, feel free to contact us at

NAME: Ambucs Park

LOCATION: 1200 E. University Ave. Urbana

HISTORY AND FEATURES: Taken from the Urbana Park District website:

AMBUCS Park is a park site leased from the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District since 1960. Originally known as Woodland Park, it was renamed after the Greater Champaign County AMBUCS service club in 2000. This park features an accessible playground, many large trees and a ball field that is used for softball and the Kiwanis-sponsored Challenger Baseball League, a program founded by Tom Jones for youth with disabilities.

AMBUCS is a wonderful place for a picnic. The Jean Driscoll Pavilion is an open air facility that can accommodate about 120 people, and is near an adjacent playground, restrooms, grill and parking. The smaller Nick Santi Pavilion is adjacent and is also available for rentals.

An accessible playground with numerous elevated ramps was installed in 2013. The playground additionally features outdoor musical instruments on an accessible path that encircles the play areas.

An accessible playground at Ambucs Park, featuring colorful equipment for kids. Photo by Maddie Rice.

Photo by Maddie Rice.


Ambucs Park is actually an overlooked gem of our parks system. It’s expansive at 22 acres, and features a lot of amenities not found elsewhere. The old growth trees are magnificent, honestly.

An enormous tree at Ambucs Park, seen from a view from the base looking up towards the sky and branches. The leaves are green and the branches are brown. Photo by Maddie Rice.

Photo by Maddie Rice.

The accessible nature of the playground and pavilion is an important piece of programming in a city like ours, with such a high volume of wheelchair users around. Plus, the grill that sits next to the Jean Driscoll Pavilion is massive, and I think it could hold like 50-60 bratwurst at one time. It’s something I want to do just to get a picture of it.

I think this bridge is remarkably odd. There’s no water under it. Might have water there sometimes of course, but on this day, it was dry, and as such, I sort of liked the way it made me feel, despite having the back drop of a waste water treatment facility.

A wooden bridge is shown in front of the waste water treatment facility. Photo by Maddie Rice.

Photo by Maddie Rice.

I also like this little bridge that allows you passage from the east side of the park to the west side, or vice versa. 

A tiny wooden bridge allows people to walk east to west over a small stream. Photo by Maddie Rice.

Photo by Maddie Rice.

The sculpture on site is an odd one, although it appeals to my tastes. I like minimalism, and industrial work like this. Something contextual, like an artist’s statement, might be nice in this case, although I accept that not every piece of public art demands one. 

A sculpture is shown in full, it has blue metal poles extending out and a huge piece of concrete is affixed to them so that it is suspended in the air. Photo by Maddie Rice.

Photo by Maddie Rice.
A plaque on a piece of art stating

Photo by Maddie Rice.

I thought about reaching out to Barry Hehemann, but I am not sure this is the right project for that. I did enjoy looking at his website, though, which you can peruse here. He graduated with an MFA from UIUC in 1977. 

The one thing I was thinking is that it might be nice to see the UPD create more programming for and led by our wheelchair using community, and find ways to incorporate that into already existing events. Certainly, the more we recognize that part of our community, and celebrate its accomplishments, the better for everyone. 

Still though, Ambucs is overlooked, and should be on every parent’s list for playtime for their kids, for a lot of reasons.

Top image by Maddie Rice.

Related Articles