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Year of the Park, A to Z: Blair Park; Video Feature


Blair Park


1406 S. Broadway Ave. Urbana, Il 


Blair Park is one of Urbana’s best parks, hands down, and bar none. It was named for J.C. Blair, the first President of the Urbana Park District Board of Commissioners, so it holds a special place for the history of the organization. They’ve done a great job keeping it up and the UPD is looking to the future, to ensure its continued value and success, and to make everyone’s lives better around these parts. 

This is where so many kids who grew up in Urbana learned how to play baseball. It’s a three ball field park, allowing Pee Wee players, Farm Leaguers, and Little Leaguers to mature into the kind of five tool prospect on the mind of any baseball coach the world over. I still miss the brown wooden fence in the outfield that looked like it could withstand a collision with a tractor, but alas, I think too many kids got injured running into it, like Bump Bailey, and it was replaced with a standard chain link at some point in the 90s, I believe. 

a view of right field of a baseball diamond from behind the outfield fence

It was definitely the first Little League field in Urbana to have an electronic scoreboard, which was amazing to see installed when it happened, but again, I am a purist, and I loved the idea that you put up crooked numbers by hand, inning to inning. Or a goose egg, if the bats weren’t going. 

The pavilion, known as the Rourke Shelter, is a first come, first served spot with plenty of seating for large groups looking to spend a day at the park. Buckets of fried chicken, or BBQ grills pulled in (in the olden days) made for so many fun hangs with family and friends.

a small pavilion with trees surrounding it

Video image by Tim Bailey. 

Back in the 80s and 90s, the coniferous trees that inhabit the park were the best ones to climb in all of Champaign-Urbana, in my opinion. But they grew! And the park district pruned most of the low branches, so without a ladder, you can just enjoy their canopy. There’s still a few you can get up on, that’s for sure. 

the trunk of a pine tree with low branches for climbing

Video image by Tim Bailey.

Beyond that, the tennis courts here are designed to be played on day and night, and the courts stay lit until late for those hard court junkies who can’t say no to another game, set, and match. 

overhead drone picture of tennis courts

Video image by Tim Bailey. 


The best news about Blair Park is that it received a grant recently that is going to vastly improve so much of what is already good about it. Tom Kacich addressed this last week in his always awesome “Mailbag” in the Gazoo: 

Yes, there are a lot of nice, innovative changes coming to the 77-year-old park this year, aided by a $400,000 state grant.

“The Urbana Park District received an Open Space Land and Development (OSLAD) grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The matching grant and use of our UPD capital improvement funds will allow us to make a number of improvements at Blair Park including: walking paths, a new playground, Zip Line, picnic area, ballfield accessibility improvements, half-court basketball, improved event space, Situ Wall at the tennis court for electronic tennis gaming/other e-games and landscape improvements,” said Tim Bartlett, executive director of the Urbana Park District.

“The new walks on all four sides of the park will allow park visitors to circumambulate the perimeter of the park. The preliminary work is under way and construction will begin in late spring.”

An 8-foot-wide multi-use path will be added to the north and west sides of the park — which have no sidewalk or path — to create a perimeter loop trail.

Here is what the design of the renovations and updates are going to look like: 

design plans and illustrations for the next phase of Blair Park

Image courtesy of Urbana Park District.

So there is a lot to look forward to as far as how this park is going to develop and materialize over the next few years. A perimeter loop for walking, jogging, scooting, and exercising should be standard by now, so it is nice to see the UPD honing in on what they know to be a proven winner. But it’s the other amenities and ideas being implemented that are going to make for an even more comprehensive park experience as soon as next year, it seems. 

Also, Executive Director Tim Bartlett used the word “circumabulate” very well in a sentence, something I have never done, and something I do not plan to try, unless I have had a few White Claws beforehand. 

J.C. Blair would probably be delighted to see what his work has led to after all of these years, indeed. Nice work, y’all.

Top Image by Tim Bailey.

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