It’s finally here

Featured: It’s finally here

It’s finally here

Central Illinois is known for its ever-changing weather.

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Bridget Broihahn

Central Illinois is known for its ever-changing weather. We put up with rain one day, snow the next, wind, ice, gray skies next, and an unseasonably sunny day still after that. We are known for our “weathering” the weather. So, when spring weather finally blesses us, we are all out and about, basking in the warmth, celebrating life anew and the good spirits that accompany the gift of spring.  Can you say festival? Nobody celebrates spring better than us. Our festivals and outdoor celebrations begin in spring time and continue well into autumn. In every town, from small-towns such as Homer with its Homer Soda Fest, to city-celebrations, like Urbana’s blow-out, the Sweet Corn Festival, we get out and enjoy our outdoors.

Downtown Champaign’s weekly, “Friday Night Live” is one long happening, and is the perfect ending of the work week. FNL is held from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The brainchild of 40 North Champaign County Arts Council, FNL is a free street-side performance series open to the general public. Performances are held at the intersections of Neil and Church, Neil and Park, and Walnut and Chester in Downtown Champaign. FNL includes an eclectic mix of music and street performances including bluegrass, jazz, folk, rock, and blues. For more information, go to 40north.org/programs/Friday-night-live.

Park it right here

It’s great to get out into the spring air and take in some of the area parks. In Champaign-Urbana alone there are a number of parks that offer something for everybody. The Urbana Park District started in 1907 with one park-Crystal Lake Park. The district currently has 22 parks and natural areas, plus several facilities. A “Trails Master Plan” is currently being developed to serve the community. The district knows that people are increasingly relating to open landscapes and trails to enhance their quality of life. To see more about Urbana parks, go to urbanaparks.org.

In Champaign, it’s much the same: wonderful parks and great scenery. The Champaign Park District has 61 parks that total over 700 acres, and 14 facilities that are available for a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Chelsea Norton, the Champaign Park District director of marketing and communications said that the parks offer something for every person’s taste and style. “Champaign Park District beautifies the community with hundreds of flower beds both in Champaign parks and at Flower Island sponsor sites. We are also growing our natural areas to include more species native to Illinois – a project that helps pollinators and other natural life.” To find a great Champaign park, go to champaignparks.com.

Another lovely place located on Lincoln Avenue, just south of Florida Avenue in Urbana are the cherry trees by Japan House. In early April they start to bloom. This display is one of the area’s best hidden treasures. The UI Arboretum and Hartley Gardens are just a short walk away from the cherry trees. These are lovely places to take a stroll any time of the year. Parking is ample, too. Go to arboretum.illinois.edu/maps for more information.

Have you a little wanderlust?

Maybe you just need to head out of town, and if that’s you, we suggest you head on over to any of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District’s many parks, preserves and programs, like the “History Along the Rail Trail,” that will have you learning all about the Kickapoo Rail Trail area. The almost seven-mile bicycle tour will start at an access point in east Urbana and will end near The Wheelhouse in St. Joseph. The tour will include stops along the way to discuss local history. This all takes place April 7 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Another great activity, that is family focused, is the “Spring has Sprung: Spring Drop-In event” at the Interpretive Center at Homer Lake Forest Preserve, April 14 from 12 to 4 p.m. Find out what animals are most active or just waking up from hibernating during this time, create a craft, and pick out some native plant seeds to plant at home. They will also be showcasing some of the resident reptiles that will give you a chance to meet them up close, too. According to the CCFPD, this program is a great opportunity to find out what happens in the forest during this season.

How about having some fun, but helping out our local conservation, too? The Museum of the Grand Prairie, Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve has an activity to help conservation called “Planting Your Own Monarch Butterfly Garden” on April 21, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. The monarch butterfly is a flagship species for conservation. With a tremendous geographic range and amazing migration, monarchs draw attention from all over North America. Many other pollinators benefit from monarch conservation efforts as people work to preserve and create habitats. All ages are encouraged to attend and will plant seeds that can be taken home to provide a habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

To obtain more information on the History Along the Rail Trail, Spring Has Sprung, or The Monarch Butterfly Garden, go to ccfpd.org/forest-preserves/events-champaign-county-illinois.