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Tuesday, March 29, 2016 12:05 am

The outdoors

Springfield offers great parks, nature spots, gardens and prairie wilderness

Washington Park - Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon
Photo by David Hine


You’ve been doing a lot of walking, mostly from one historic site to the next. It’s not really the legwork that wears you out – you’ve simply taken in all the details a mind can absorb. Tourism can be exhausting.

If you need a change of pace, why not check out one of Springfield’s natural settings? The city offers great parks, nature spots, gardens and prairie wilderness. All Springfield parks are open dawn to dusk.

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary

This is the perfect place for a quick nature walk without driving out of town. Just off one of Springfield’s busiest streets, Clear Lake Avenue, the sanctuary is a hidden jewel that’s accessible in minutes. Once a mid-19th-century farm, it’s now a wooded haven for birds and birdwatchers and is owned by the Illinois Audubon Society. One trail takes 15 minutes to complete; a longer trail takes 45 minutes. The visitor center offers information about the trees, plants and birds commonly encountered.

Visitors can also tour the restored 1850s Margery Adams farmhouse. Its award-winning, eco-friendly design features the use of geothermal heat.

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 E. Clear Lake Ave., 217-544-2473. Go east of downtown on Madison Avenue, which turns into Clear Lake.

Carpenter Park Nature Preserve

This 434-acre park and 341-acre nature preserve hugs the Sangamon River just north of town along Peoria Road/Business I-55, south of the Rail Golf Course. The park includes 10 trails, a large shelter with a fireplace, and several picnic tables. It’s a short jaunt from the Illinois State Fairgrounds and is adjacent to Gurgens and Riverside parks.

Heading west from Ohio, William Carpenter came upon what is now the park with his family in the fall of 1820. Native Americans from the Kickapoo and Tamaroa tribes were residents at the time. The Native Americans left the area, but the land remained fairly undeveloped through the years – you won’t find the park’s natural undulations and rock formations anywhere else.

The trails are a perfect place for a hike past ponds, marshes, woodlands and prairie. Look for hundreds of bird, plant and animal species, some unique to the area. Across the river, near the softball diamonds at Riverside Park, pet owners can let their pooches explore and exercise at one of the area’s only dog runs.

Carpenter Park Nature Preserve, IL 124 and Loop I-55, 217-544-1751. Drive north from Springfield on Peoria Road/Business I-55.

The splash pad at Southwind Park makes for a lot of fun on a hot day.
Photo by David Hine

Centennial Park

Calling all skateboarders! In addition to its wide-open spaces and opportunity for a great picnic away from Springfield, Centennial Park is home to a skateboarders’ run, dedicated in 2003. The smooth surface covers 10,000 square feet and is packed with the curves, dips and banks that will make your day. And for those not into skating, there are bocce ball courts and picnic areas.

Centennial Park, Bunker Hill Road and Lenhart Road, 217-544-1751. Take MacArthur onto Wabash and continue west past White Oaks Mall, then start looking for Bunker Hill on your right. Take a right onto Bunker Hill and keep going until you see the parking lot.

Lincoln Memorial Garden

Six miles of trails take you through 100 acres of native woodland on Lake Springfield’s northwest shore at Lincoln Memorial Garden, designed in 1936 by the great American landscape architect Jens Jensen. The garden is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each trail is dotted with benches etched with Lincoln quotes. All plants derive from the three states in which Lincoln lived – Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. The grove of sugar maples is always popular with visitors, especially when warm weather approaches. Nearby are the garden’s Walnut Grove and Ostermeier Prairie Center, a former farm where once-cultivated fields were restored to native grasses and forbs. The garden is open daily, sunrise to sunset.

Lincoln Memorial Garden, 2301 E. Lake Drive, 217-529-1111. Take I-55 south to the Chatham/East Lake Drive interchange (exit 88), then head east (left) for two miles on East Lake Drive.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park on the north side of Springfield is an 88-acre site added to the park district in 1905. This is one of the historic parks developed as a terminus of the urban trolley line in use at the time. There is something for kids, mom and dad, even grandpa here, with two 18-hole disc-golf courses, tennis courts and a horseshoe park. Lincoln Park contains the greatest variety of sports-oriented facilities of any park in the Springfield Park District. The roads, trails and open space are used for walking, running and bicycling. The northern half of the park contains a soccer field, six ball diamonds with one lighted, three tennis courts, three shuffleboard courts and at least 21 horseshoe pits. Also in the park, the Nelson Recreation Center contains an outdoor swimming pool and two indoor ice rinks.

The historic lagoon just off the south entrance of Fifth Street has been extensively renovated. Lincoln Park also has a cross-country running course and the historic Lincoln Park Pavilion, built in the early 1900s, offers scenic views. The Fun Shop, an early childhood development center, is also located within the park.

Lincoln Park, Fifth Street and Sangamon Avenue, 217-544-1751. Take Sixth Street north from downtown or Fifth Street south from the Illinois State Fairgrounds. For information on Nelson Center events, call 217-753-2800.

Explore the tranquil hiking paths at Lincoln Memorial Gardens
Photo by David Hine

Washington Park

Designed by Ossian Simonds, noted for his naturalistic style of landscape design, Washington Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. Springfield’s largest and most active park is home of the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, the sixth largest in the world. Events include an Art Spectacular in mid-September and the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular in October. Carillon concerts are held at noon on Wednesdays and Sundays in October through April; in May through September, concerts begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; concerts are held year-round on Sundays at 3 p.m. Tours of the carillon are offered at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and every 30 minutes on Sundays from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. in May through September; tours are by appointment from October through April. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children.

The Washington Park Botanical Garden features a 9,000-square-foot greenhouse, conservatory and gallery. A variety of gardens surround the conservatory, including a 5,000-plant rose garden, the largest of its kind in central Illinois, a scent-and-texture garden for the visually impaired, an iris garden, a perennial border, the Betty Mood Smith Rockery and Roman Cultural and outdoor cactus gardens.

Washington Park is also home to ponds, picnic shelters, playgrounds, public tennis courts, nature trails and bike and jogging paths. The 350-foot boardwalk overlooking the lower lagoon is a popular gathering place for joggers, walkers and feeders of the park’s many ducks. Playmates of all ages will enjoy the extensively modernized playground, next to the tennis courts. The Velasco Tennis Center at the park features six unlighted courts and an equal number of lighted courts for night play and opens the first weekend in May. Check out the two fishing ponds stocked with catfish and trout.

Washington Park, South Grand Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard, 217-544-1751. Enter by South Grand Avenue on the south, Chatham Road on the west, Fayette Avenue on the north, or Orendorff Parkway on the east.

Southwind Park

Southwind Park is the newest addition to the Springfield Park District. Opened in May 2010 and located at South Second Street and South Wind Road, this 80-acre park has two bocce ball courts, a fishing pond filled with catfish, bluegill and bass, four horseshoe pits, four shuffleboard courts, five small picnic shelters and the Hope Picnic shelter, open for rentals and family picnics. The park has a fully accessible playground and two and a half miles of concrete walking paths. Also, check out the Treeless Treehouse, a fully accessible lookout point that gives an elevated view of the park. For a bit of nostalgia, check out the Selvaggio Historic Arches, a sculpture modeled after arches erected for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892. On hot summer days, head over to the splash fountain where kids can run through an interactive circular patio that shoots streams of water out of the ground. The park is also home to Erin’s Pavilion, a 15,000-square-foot center available for weddings, banquets and business meetings.

Southwind Park is at 4965 S. Second St., Springfield, 217-585-2941. From Interstate 55 take the Toronto Road exit south of Springfield and right onto Toronto Road. Turn right onto South Second St. Erin’s Pavilion will be on your left.


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