400 W. Indiana St., Urbana, IL 61801
HISTORY AND FEATURES
Carle Park was founded in the heart of Urbana in 1909, a donation from Margaret Carle Morris in honor of her late husband, Albert Carle. It is tucked into the West Urbana Neighborhood just to the east of campus and the west of Urbana High School, and its location and commitment to the best parts of living in the Midwest make this park just about perfect.
The Hickman Tree Walk is perhaps its greatest feature, if only because if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never be aware of it. While there are many old growth trees scattered throughout the eleven acre park, it is the fifty trees that you can observe in a jagged path that makes for a marvelous afternoon, and an educational one as well.
The pavilion in the park is a wonderful centerpiece to the old park; sadly, it was restored and then locked up in the past decade, due to excessive vandalism and costly maintenance. It is not a choice I agreed with, or agree with now, but alas, there are decisions that are made that are beyond my control or understanding.
The open grove in the center of the park might be my favorite place in town to bathe in the sun, or walk through the snow. There is just something about this particular canopy of trees that does it for me. I accept that it is part of my history and nostalgia is going to play a role, but by comparison to a lot of green spaces in this community, this one just feels different. And more well kept.
At the end of the day, you could make the argument that Carle Park is the best park in all of Champaign-Urbana. It depends on what sort of park you like the best, I suppose. It is small, and there aren’t quite as many amenities to it if you are comparing it to Meadowbrook or Robeson, as an example. But there is just that feeling, like I made mention up above.
The community loves it, and the neighborhood that surrounds it protects it. The Urbana Park District does such a good job with the entirety of its system, but really understands that this very well may be its crown jewel. They did an excellent job replacing the magnificent hand built wooden play structure from the 1980s with one that challenges kids and still keeps them relatively safe. They’ve maintained the trees in meticulous fashion. They’ve provided maintenance and care inside of the park in ways that some others in town wouldn’t dare dream.
At the end of this series, there will be a ranking of all the parks in Champaign-Urbana, Worst to First, and it will be very interesting to see where Carle Park lands. If I am being predictive, it will be Top 5, and perhaps Top 3. If you’ve never been, this is the season to do it, more than any.