Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Spalding Park, Champaign

As Year of the Park continues, 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 more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at


Spalding Park 


900 Harris Ave., Urbana


The marquee element and feature of Spalding Park used to be Spalding Pool. Up until about a decade ago, for almost 50 years, the north side of Champaign had this amenity and as someone who lives in the neighborhood, I am still deeply sad it doesn’t exist. That said, the Champaign Park District saw the writing on the wall: old pool, endless fixes, few swimmers, big money pit. It was time for it to go. I could go deeper, but why not read Mathis Helmick’s awesome article about it eight years ago instead? 

It’s a great one. 

Since then, the park has been sort of a wasteland, save for the few people who use its tennis courts (and I mean literally almost no one uses them — trust me) and the new basketball court (which is almost always occupied). 

The old baseball field where kids grew up playing Pony League has been completely redone to accommodate Champaign Central’s baseball program, and let me tell you, it looks absolutely gorgeous: 

a high school baseball field viewed through a chain link fence

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

There is a reason it looks so gorgeous, however. It is fake. The whole damn field is sports turf, or whatever they call it. Save for the rocks that surround the field, I mean everything. The pitcher’s mound. The batter’s box. The infield. 

In my view, it is an abomination. You don’t step up to the plate on turf. You don’t fire a fastball off a turf mound. You don’t turn two off it either. You need dirt. But like so much of what Unit 4 puts back into the community, it’s smoke and mirrors, and it skips a vital step. Yes it is a school, but it’s not really teaching our kids what they need to get ready for adulthood. Yes it is a baseball field, but it doesn’t really ready our players for the next level. I suppose any way to save money to make sure the administration stays bloated and ready to find fault with the Champaign Federation of Teacher’s is the way of it these days. Congratulations, you built a baseball field perfect for people living in a version of the fucking Truman Show

Anyhow, I seriously digress. Spalding has a children’s playground, and a skate park! And it is a pretty awesome skate park, to be honest. I don’t skate, never have, and I doubt I ever will, but the fact that we have one that is filled with graffiti and kids on decks is a wonderful thing.

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

My sons and I have walked the tracks down that way many, many times to just watch them go at it. I hope my kids pick it up at some point. I also hope they do not become posers. I will buy the Vision Street Wear if they wish, I suppose, but we all know that only posers wore that back in the 80s and 90s. 


The great news about this park is that it is about to get the huge overhaul that has been in the works for literally almost twenty years. Part of the hold up is… ding ding ding, you guessed it, the partnership with Unit 4, who can’t seem to figure out much these days, sadly. That doesn’t entirely exonerate Champaign Park District from some issues too, however. When we (the neighborhood folk who showed up to the meeting) first met about the redesigned park with the planner from CPD (a very nice person who did not expect to get the earfull she got) she showed up with plans that were total shit. We said as much, and she listened, and tried her best to remind us that these were just preliminary ideas, and so we said, “Good, this is total shit.” 

Now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be total shit; it looks like it’s going to be a pretty great park, thanks to some smart planning and excellent feedback and a grant OSLAD grant from the State of Illinois. The main thing we struggled with was the walking path to nowhere. I have been assured that the walking path now loops, as a walking path should. If it ends up not looping, I will write about it, and it will be filled with so many expletives my Grandma Maizie will rise from the dead to wag her finger in my face. I have faith that this walking path is going to loop. 

I wanted to publish some designs, but CPD lead planner Andrew Weiss stated that they aren’t ready to reveal it since there are still some changes and additions to be made in the coming months before the start construction: 

The OSLAD grant improvements for Spalding Park are the walking path, the pathway lighting, new fitness equipment, new playground, and new pavilion.  The OSLAD improvements are on schedule, they will go out to bid later this summer.

There is a concurrent project underway at Spalding Park with Unit 4 Schools–renovation and addition of tennis courts and ancillary support facilities.  MSA Engineers are working on both projects, but owing to time constraints they may have to be bid separately.  This tennis court initiative is a very recent item compared to the OSLAD improvements so the designers are integrating/designing the two projects currently so it’s difficult to get an available plan at the moment.

When all is said and done it will indeed have taken a while to get the park  finished.  Which will always take longer when two gov’t agencies work together.  And we’re not done even hatching out the agreement with the tennis courts.  The CPD is very much looking forward to updating Spalding Park for the surrounding neighborhood!  Out of opportunity and priority we’ve worked with Unit 4 first, which has taken some time. But in 2022 all the park improvements will be finished.

This is seriously great news. A walking path? Bing! Lighting on the path? Bing again! Exercise equipment? Yes indeed! New playground? New pavilion? Awesome. That’s great. 

The biggest thing that I think that CPD could do is add some fire pits to the wonderful grove of massive oak trees inside the park. Add a few grills, and some tables, and it would be a great place to gather with friends — year round — to utilize a very lovely canopy of massive trees, all bunched up together, next to an old train track. 

If they don’t do that, I will just build a pit there and light a fire myself and see what happens? I might get arrested for arson, however. But I will have proved a very very important point in the meantime. 

Actually, no I will not have. I will just be in jail for arson. Gotta think about this… 

Top image by Maddie Rice. 

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