‘There’s no place like home’
Campus offers abundance of activities … in your own backyard
Nationwide, a slumping economy and high prices at the gas pump are changing many people’s summer vacation plans. While some opt to take shorter trips closer to home, others have curtailed vacation plans altogether.
If you’re feeling short-changed and your fuel tank always seems to be running on empty this summer, don’t despair.
A quick inventory of our own backyard – the UI campus – reveals a mother lode of recreational, cultural, historical and other activities. Many of these “vacation-at-home” activities are inexpensive or free. (See UI online calendar.)
For starters, consider packing a picnic lunch – or bringing something to toss on the grill – and head out to Illini Grove, located just north of the Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls on Lincoln Avenue. The on-campus mini-forest is an inviting place for casual visitors to linger on a lunch hour, toss a Frisbee, shoot some hoops or play volleyball. The park includes a shelter house, picnic tables and grills. Larger groups can reserve the grove for potlucks and other events by calling Campus Recreation, 244-3998.
Another escape just minutes south of Illini Grove is the Arboretum. When completed, the 160-acre natural area on South Lincoln Avenue between Florida Avenue and Windsor Road will function as a four-season “living laboratory” for those studying plant sciences and fine and applied arts. Even in its incomplete state, the Arboretum is an ideal space for anyone who enjoys communing with nature. A person – or even the whole family – can while away the better part of a day there wandering through the UI Extension/Champaign County Master Gardener’s Idea Garden, Hartley Selection Gardens and tree trail.
This year’s Idea Garden features creative arrangements of familiar as well as exotic flora and fauna. Notable, in the latter category is the topiary zoo, featuring colorful characters Geoffry Giraffe, Freddie Frog, Lionel Lion and friends – wire-framed critters stuffed with sphagnum moss and small plant “plugs” that include sedum, hens and chicks, impatiens and spider plants. Other highlights this year: toad abodes, a butterfly-shaped “not knot” garden with contrasting foliage colors and a fine example of an Egyptian walking onion that resembles something a scuba diver might discover 20,000 leagues under the sea.
On a recent muggy but breezy afternoon, Judy and Sharen Kloster, UI alumni from St. Joseph, were among an abundance of butterflies and a handful of visitors window-shopping for design ideas at the garden.
“This is a great place to come visit – to see what’s happening,” said Judy Kloster, who tries to check out the garden with her husband at least once a season. The couple – whose own garden includes 350 varieties of hostas and an unspecified, but also large, number of varieties of coral bells – met on campus in 1965 when Judy was studying social work and Sharen was a communications major.
Just south of the garden, near the Arboretum’s master-plan map, was an enthusiastic pair of first-time visitors. Alex Shirazi, a sophomore in advertising, and Kevin Engledow, a sophomore in integrative biology, said they learned about the Arboretum from the campus Web site and decided to get out and explore in real time.
“We came out here and decided to take a stroll,” Shirazi said, adding that they had just come from the other end of the expansive green zone. There, they had discovered Japan House, the cultural arts facility administered by the School of Art and Design, which includes ponds and traditional Japanese gardens.
Both students seemed genuinely amazed by what they’d found on their field trip.
“We didn’t think we were in Champaign-Urbana anymore,” Engledow said. “I’m going to go back and tell people about it.”
Back at Japan House, assistant director Cynthia Voelkl wasn’t able to linger to talk to drop-in guests that day since she needed to run to make tea for visitors participating in the day’s house and garden tours and tea ceremony. Voelkl said this is the first summer that Japan House is offering public tours and tea ceremonies for visitors.
If garden talk and walks aren’t exactly your cup of tea, other possibilities await nearby. A short bike ride or drive west along St. Mary’s Road offers a free view of some iconic remnants of the UI’s agricultural heritage – a trio of round barns. The dairy barns, built between 1907 and about 1910, were built in this manner because Wilbur J. Fraser, the first head of the department of dairy husbandry, believed the style to be more efficient and better able to withstand wind.
More campus history is free for the taking around just about every corner. Just grab a campus map, take off in any direction, then apply the brakes when you come upon one of the many historical markers dotting the campus landscape. The markers document some of the university’s most notable discoveries and best bragging points.
Or, in a similar vein, locate a copy of Muriel Scheinman’s “A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois” (UI Press) and craft your own personal treasure hunt. Of course, everyone knows where to find Lorado Taft’s “Alma Mater” sculptural grouping, but what about his other on-campus works such as “The Blind,” “The Pioneers” or the “Katherine Lucinda Sharp Memorial”? Happy hunting.
If the search doesn’t deplete your party’s energy, there always are a variety of activities to choose from, courtesy of Campus Recreation. At the Campus Recreation Center East (CRCE), at 1102 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, visitors can refresh at the Aquatic Center with its temperature-controlled leisure pool for water activity; water slide, bubble benches, volcano fountain waterfall; and 12-person spa. CRCE also has courts for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, racquetball and more; a 10,000-square-foot fitness area; and an indoor track.
Freer Hall, 906 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, also offers lap-swim hours, and Campus Rec’s Complex Fields at the corner of Florida and Lincoln avenues – which include lighted softball diamonds, football, soccer, lacrosse and rugby fields – have “open rec” hours in the summer.
University “affiliates” – faculty and staff members, extra help and allied organization employees, alumni, spouses and partners – can become Campus Rec members for a fee. Day passes also are available for eligible individuals, who also may purchase passes for themselves and up to five guests.
If all that physical activity leaves you craving more sedentary, passive leisure pursuits, there are always “the Krannerts.” Of course, you will have to remain on your feet to absorb the 2-D, 3-D and virtual culture housed in the Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, but slow-mo shuffling is encouraged. Among the shows on view through July 27 is one that provides a rare glimpse of some of the museum’s finer mid-century modern gems: “Finding the Self in Abstract Expressionism: Selections From the Permanent Collection.”
Across campus at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, Summer Studio Theatre performances of “Talley’s Folly,” “The Last Five Years,” “The Turn of the Screw” and “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” continue through July, along with concerts by participants in the Illinois Summer Youth Music program and by the UI Summer Jazz Band. And oenophiles can always drink in the center’s ambiance, beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursdays, during “Krannert Uncorked” wine tastings.
The sound of music can be heard – free, no strings attached – in plenty of other venues this summer as well. Options include more Illinois Summer Youth Music recitals in the Music Building and the recital hall of Smith Hall. Also, at 7 p.m. on July 17, the UI Summer Band, conducted by Daniel Neuenschwander, will perform on the Quad.
And for the second year, Krannert Center, in partnership with Fox/Atkins Development LLC, will present a three-show series of summer concerts at the UI Research Park, on July 11 and 25, and Aug. 8. (See “Brief Notes,” page 7.)
Another cultural excursion suitable for the family includes a summer “trip around the world” at the Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana. On view through Aug. 10 is the colorful and quirky exhibit “Calypso Music in Postwar America: Photographs and Illustrations, 1945-1960.”
Also mixing music and culture is a new exhibition, “Creative Industry Forging New Music Horizons.” The exhibition, expected to open later this summer, will be at the newly renovated museum space at the UI’s Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.
For those yearning for yet more ... those who just can’t resist jumping in the car for a short road trip or ambitious cycling tour, the UI’s Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello always beckons year-round. Selected by Illinoisans last year as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, the 1,500-acre park has been a perennial favorite escape for generations of UI students, faculty and staff members, alumni and others. Park highlights include hiking trails, formal gardens, sculptures and a century-old Georgian-style mansion.
The park also is the setting for musical events throughout the year, including the Music in Nature Concert Series. Series concerts this summer are from 5-9 p.m. July 19 and Aug. 16.
Also at the park on Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 29-Sept. 1) is the second annual Allerton Music Barn Festival sponsored by the School of Music.
Free film screenings aren’t as easy to find on campus in summer months, but those who seek them out will unearth some rare finds. Among them, “Alexander Nevsky,” produced in 1938 by the Soviet Union’s pre-eminent film director, Sergei Eisenstein. The film, which has a 1993 soundtrack, is being screened at 7:30 p.m. July 7 in the 10th-floor lounge of Illini Tower, 409 E. Chalmers St., Champaign, as part of the Russian, East European and Eurasian Center’s Summer Research Laboratory. On July 9, at the same time and location, the documentary “Citizen Vaclav Havel,” by directors Jan and Adam Novak, will be presented.
Editor’s note: The suggestions presented here by no means represent the only itinerary items for your “summer vacation on campus.” Consider this an incomplete to-do list ... a jumping off point. Now, open your eyes and mind, exercise your muscles, save a few bucks and jump. And if you have a favorite on-campus, summer-fun idea not on our list that you’d like to share with others, send it to Inside Illinois, email@example.com. We may publish your suggestion in an upcoming issue or online.
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