Champaign-Urbana Preserves the Prairies

By Hollie Deese on June 22, 2011 at 9:45 pm EST


The Champaign-Urbana area is filled with natural wonders, a beauty that’s subtle, sweeping and soft.

Locals can take advantage of that scenery every day through a variety of ways.

The Arboretum at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign allows visitors to wind their way through more than 160 acres of gardens, habitats and collections on the campus farmlands. In fact, it will become a “living laboratory” for students learning about plant science and a tranquil retreat for anyone who wishes to visit.

Bring the kids to the Anita Purves Nature Center, where you can sneak in some education with their fun activities. Free to the public, the center instills a love for the outdoors at an early age with hands-on investigation, exploration and games.

It’s that early love that can translate to activism later in life, along the lines of the Meadowbrook Prairie restoration project. In 1978, the Urbana Park District took a small piece of land and sewed some seeds of native plants. That small action has grown into a partnership with the Champaign County Audubon Society to develop the plant life, which has extended by 15 acres and been designated a nature preserve. Grasses and wildflowers that once spanned the state unabated are thriving once again, thanks to this 30-year effort.

A paved hiking and biking path encircles Meadowbrook Park, running through the acres of switchgrass, bluestem and Canada wild rye, over streams and past purple coneflower, spiderwort and purple prairie clover. It’s not unusual to spot a deer or hawk in this tranquil environment.

Furthermore, feathered friends can be observed at a number of local spots through the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. Birdwatchers flock to the area, and you can download lists of all types of birds to look out for at the Audubon society Web site.

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