The sun is shining and the sky is a deep, perfect, unblemished blue. The air is dry and warm, but tinged with a touch of autumn chill. It is heavenly. I wish this weather could last all year, but in east central Illinois, we are extremely lucky to have an entire week of it. So…my advice is to take advantage of it, and enjoy nature during my favorite month, October. Not only is the weather comfortable, but also the trees are just beginning to turn into their vibrant fall colors. Driving the tree-lined streets of our town, I already see splotches of deep red, orange, and yellow in the canopy above. There are plenty of lovely parks to enjoy this season in the Champaign-Urbana area:
- The lake at Crystal Lake Park in Urbana is anything but crystal-clear, but there are acres of tree-lined paths perfect for walking, jogging or bike riding. Watch out for ducks and geese! (http://www.urbanaparks.org/facilities/11.html)
- The path from Kaufman Lake to Parkland College in west Champaign is also perfect for walking, jogging and biking; Dodds Park at the north end of the path is also a great place to watch the kids and adults playing soccer on the weekends (http://www.champaignparkdistrict.com/parks/kaufman.htm).
- My favorite park is Meadowbrook Park in south Urbana (http://www.urbanaparks.org/facilities/16.html). Paved paths weave around the acreage, from windy prairie, to babbling brook, to woods, to shared organic gardens. Bikers, walkers, joggers and roller-bladers can enjoy the blooming prairie plants; I love the vista over the prairie at sunset. There’s even a large field for kite flying when the weather’s right.
If you have access to a car, two of my favorite parks are within 30 minutes’ drive of C-U:
- Heading west on I-74 to Mahomet, you will find Lake of the Woods. There are roads leading through the park, a paved trail for walking and biking, fishing, a covered bridge, a small museum, and even a golf course. Don’t forget to climb the bell tower for a lovely view and a good workout! (http://www.ccfpd.org/Preserves/LakeoftheWoods.html)
- If you take I-72 to Monticello, you will find the University of Illinois-owned Allerton Park. Once the estate of the Allerton family, the park has a mansion (now used as a conference center), a walled garden, sunken gardens, statue gardens, greenhouses, and several trails flanking the Sangamon River. Deer and other wildlife are plentiful, so keep your eyes and ears open while hiking. (http://allerton.illinois.edu/)
A couple of words of caution, however: allergy-sufferers beware! Fall is the time of year with the highest pollen counts. In addition, the harvest of corn and soybeans releases a lot of dust and mold spores into the air. Don’t forget sunscreen and mosquito repellent, either. The insects are still around and biting until after the first deep frost. Finally, wear a hat, long sleeves and pants if hiking in the woods to avoid ticks, poison ivy and poison oak.
I encourage you to brave the elements and experience nature. Being out in nature can revive us, replenish our energy, and heal our minds and bodies. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by to enjoy it to its fullest.