Park district staying on path picked by residents
CHAMPAIGN – Don Schum may be 78 years old, but he's not too old to get out and walk nearly every day.
On a recent afternoon, Schum, a Champaign resident, was walking on the 8-foot-wide concrete path that loops around Hessel Park with his friend, Darrell White.
"I really enjoy this," Schum said. "I've been using this park for several years, and since they added this path, it's an added attraction. This is a beautiful park. I try to walk at least a mile or two every day."
White, a 61-year-old Champaign resident, agrees that the path, which covers six tenths of a mile, is a great amenity. It was added by the park district in the fall of 2005 at a cost of $138,000.
"It gets a lot of use here," White said. "It's really pleasant to be able to walk and not worry about the traffic."
Champaign Park District Executive Director Bobbie Herakovich said walking paths within parks, and trails that connect parks, are highly popular with city residents. A district survey a few years ago showed more than 60 percent of respondents thought that adding paths and trails should be the district's top priority.
And park officials are listening. The district has been steadily adding to its inventory of walking paths, with a new one added at Mattis Park this year and plans to add them at Morrissey and Scott parks and to build a mile-long "pipeline" trail in west Champaign in 2008.
"It's a multiyear effort to be responsive to our residents' needs," Herakovich said.
With national statistics showing that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, it's important that exercise be made convenient for people, Herakovich said.
"The Centers for Disease Control has done a lot of studies on obesity," she said. "They found people who live closer to a park are more fit. And if we can provide these activities in a neighborhood park, they don't have to drive to another place."
Another positive about adding walking paths and trails, said park district Park Planner Terri Gibble, is that they are relatively inexpensive in comparison to things like baseball fields or playgrounds.
"One of the least expensive ways to provide something in the parks people of all ages will enjoy is a path or trail," Gibble said.
A path around a small lake was added this summer at Mattis Park, south of Devonshire Drive near the Colony West subdivision. The path covers just over half a mile and cost $133,000.
The district also added a new path that runs north and south in Douglass Park this summer. The path cost $41,000 and linked existing sidewalks on three sides of the park.
This coming spring and summer, plans are to add even more paths, including:
– Adding a six-tenths of a mile loop path in Morrissey Park, which is just north of Windsor Road midway between Prospect and Mattis avenues. This path, expected to cost about $150,000, will be bid in about six weeks.
– Adding concrete paths next year or in 2009 that will "criss-cross" Scott Park in central Champaign. The paths will be added in conjunction with drainage work planned as part of the Boneyard Creek Second Street detention project.
In an even bigger move, the park district also plans to install this spring a 1-mile long, 10-foot-wide concrete trail between Kirby Avenue and Windsor Road, just west of Mullikin Drive. The trail will be built over three to four months and is expected to cost $565,000. The park district last year received a $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the project.
The new trail will be built on an easement for a high-pressure gasoline transmission pipeline owned by Ashland Marathon Pipe Line LLC, Gibble said. The land will be given to the park district by subdivision developer Randy Pfeifer, according to Gibble. The trail will likely be expanded in the future as new subdivisions to the south are built, Gibble said.
Adding new trails is just fine with Judith Gruber, who was walking the Hessel Park path recently with her dog, Zeke.
Asked if she enjoys the path, Gruber got a bit dramatic.
"I kneel at their altar," she said. "It's wonderful."