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C-U residents say goodbye to Meadowbrook Park’s Prairie Play wooden playground

Parents and children played at Meadowbrook Park’s wooden playground at the Prairie Play Playdate event in Urbana on Saturday.

Children and families from Champaign-Urbana gathered at the playground at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana on Saturday to say goodbye to the wooden structure that has been around for almost 30 years.

The playground will soon be replaced with a new design that Urbana Park District officials say is more modern and accessible. 

Urbana resident Bree Bubb was among the attendees of the final Prairie Play Playdate. She said she has memories of the playground from her childhood.

“I used to play here as a kid, and it was always really special to me. We always referred to it as the wooden park,” Bubb said. “I have a daughter now who’s 3, almost 4, and I wanted her to have some memories playing here. It’s a unique park to this area.”

Derek Liebert, Urbana Park District’s superintendent of planning and operations, is in charge of designing the new playground, which he says will be more accessible to kids of different ages and abilities. 

“It’ll be a really innovative design, bringing a lot of new playground concepts. They’ll be much more inclusive and better for a wide variety of kids,” Liebert said. 

Some of those designs include separate playing areas for children of different ages, ziplines that have tracks for children who are less able-bodied and rubber ground surfaces to make the park wheelchair accessible, he said. 

The park district decided to replace the playground primarily because the wood is hard to maintain and is starting to rot, Liebert said. 

Some people disagree with the decision, including Urbana resident and father Eric Baldwin.

“The existing structure is in exceptionally good condition. It’s not rotting, the wood is plenty strong,” Baldwin said. “I really questioned the reasons for tearing it down.”

Like many other local residents, Baldwin has an appreciation for how unique the wooden park is. 

“I’m super disappointed that they’re going to be tearing it down soon, to replace it with something that may have its charms and everything, but it’s more of a prefab modern system,” Baldwin said. “This is like a historic structure that has a lot of personality. Kids love it. It’s very experiential and super interactive.” 

Liebert said replacing Prairie Play is a tall challenge because the structure is so well-loved in the community.

“We have to replace it in a way that would really reflect the interest and needs of the community because this one was for so many generations of kids,” Liebert said. “We’ve taken good care of it for 30 years. Now we’re ready to take pride for the next generation of kids.” 

The new playground is expected to open in the fall, he said.

Illinois Student Newsroom

Illinois Student Newsroom

At the IPM Student Newsroom, journalism students from the U of I's College of Media work alongside professional journalists -- public radio reporters, editors and producers -- to produce multimedia stories on issues affecting east-central Illinois. Follow us on Instagram: @illinoisstudentnewsroom

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