It's a piece of land with quite the past.
What is now a fallow field in northeast Urbana was once a solid waste lagoon. Before that, it was farmland. And prior to being farmland, the Saline Branch of the Salt Fork River (before the river was straightened) used to meander through the area.
In coming years, the land within Judge Webber Park on East Perkins Road will be restored to prairie and savannah with a few pockets of wetlands, thanks to the Urbana Park District with help from the state of Illinois and the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District.
The Judge Webber Park project was one of several area conservation projects recently awarded state money.
A total of $4.3 million, through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation 2000 program, has been earmarked for projects in counties across the state.
"These grants are a critical investment in Illinois' diverse natural resources. The projects are generated by local communities and will help protect the environment, provide more outdoor recreation opportunities, enhance tourism and grow the economy," said Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a release.
The Urbana Park District received $49,825 for the Webber Park restoration project. The Champaign County Forest Preserve District will receive $28,150 to restore the Point Pleasant Wetland in the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve in Penfield.
And the Vermilion County Soil and Water Conservation District received $16,000 to plant 200 acres of native grass in the region.
"It's a neat use of land that has seen a number of historic uses. And it's a wonderful opportunity to restore some of the area's biodiversity," said Derek Liebert, natural areas coordinator with the Urbana Park District.
The Webber Park restoration will involve some moving of dirt, removing invasive species, conducting controlled burns, planting native vegetation, trees and shrubs, Liebert said.
Initial planning for the project will begin this winter and restoration will probably begin in the spring, he said.
The park district recently completed the creation of a sedge meadow and wet prairie in the park.
"We envision having trails and boardwalks and overlooks," Liebert said. "It will be a wildlife sanctuary similar to Meadowbrook (Park) or Busey Woods. There will be environmental education programs that will run through there."
The Point Pleasant Wetland in Penfield is a 70-acre site within the 1,600 Middle Fork preserve.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District purchased the wetland site with a previous Conservation 2000 grant for $113,000, said Andee Chestnut, public information director for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.
"We're thrilled," Chestnut said. "They want to restore the site to what it was during pre-settlement times," she said.
That will mean building a structure that will retain water in the wetland as well as planting native vegetation, Chestnut said.