'Just peaceful': Pond, gazebo, waterfall transform Glenn Park into mini-oasis

'Just peaceful': Pond, gazebo, waterfall transform Glenn Park into mini-oasis

CHAMPAIGN — Robert Counce took a seat on the rock next to the cascading waterfall at Glenn Park early Monday evening as he looked off into a pond filled with around a dozen ducks.

A few people walked by, mostly with their dogs scampering beside them. A few bicyclists coasted past.

But to Counce, it was as if he was alone as he sang along to the music blasting from his earbuds.

"It's just peaceful," he said. "It's beautiful on the water. It's just relaxation."

Sometimes when he arrives for work at Wirco, the steel mill directly north of the park, at 4:30 in the morning, he finds himself lingering, wanting to soak in the beauty of the park for a few seconds more as the streetlights along the path glow.

Just a matter of months ago, Counce wouldn't have found himself lingering in this area, even though he lives a few blocks away and works nearby.

He and fellow employees and neighbors watched as the park was transformed over the last few years from a drab strip of houses and buildings with a small basketball court into a serene body of water, complete with a gazebo, a waterfall and a path that encircles the pond.

"I've seen it from scratch," Counce said. "It's pretty remarkable. Very nice setting. ... It's very beautiful and it accommodates this area very well. It's very peaceful and it's just somewhere to get away."

Valerie Garcia carried a bag of stale bread on Monday, which she'd use to feed the ducks that drifted around the pond as she and her son, Nicholas Taylor, walked their dog, Otis.

Taylor regularly walks to various places around Champaign late at night, but he tried to avoid the Glenn Park area before the renovation. Now, he feels safer strolling around the park with lights illuminating the path and security cameras overhead.

"It does make me feel a lot safer to come here at night," Taylor said.

Conspicuously absent are the geese that flock to other area retention ponds, and that's intentional. Green fencing lines the pond's edge, which keeps geese from taking their goslings into the water, said Ed Wachala, a neighbor and member of the steering committee that helped design the park.

When the geese discover this, they don't return.

In the midst of the beauty and utility, a few drawbacks exist. Tall trees used to line the area in front of the steel mill and the Kraft plant, blocking them from the neighborhood's view. Those were cut down and replaced with new, much younger trees to make room for the pond.

Access to Mattis Avenue is more difficult for residents who live east of the park, because the westbound one-way road along its north side was eliminated. However, with that comes the benefit of far less pass-through traffic.

And that's not the only positive.

"It's incredible," Wachala said. "People are out here using it. ... It's just a phenomenal project. It turned out better than I think a lot of us thought it could."

On a typical day, only a few people at a time stroll around the park, which still enjoys a relatively unknown existence. But in the last few months, Wachala has seen something he'd rarely seen before: people walking up from the south to use the park, sometimes congregating for parties.

In the months and years ahead, he thinks there will be more visitors.

"It's kind of a go-to destination for people," Wachala said as he played fetch with his dog. "And people still don't really know about it. When people know about it, it'll be even busier than it is now. It's terrific."