CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — As we begin the month of March and Black History Month has come to another end, a local community-based project is just getting started and will continue. That project, the Champaign County African-American Heritage Trail has been brewing since 2021. However, it’s not too late for the Central Illinois community to get involved with their support.
The project doubles as an interactive trail and transformation of Skelton Park where two bike paths will interject. One of the bike paths will feature a memorial to Champaign’s Rotary Club and Foundation. I recently learned from a fellow Rotarian that the Rotary Club is donating at least $100,000 to the project which led to the memorial. The second bike path will consist of musical instruments and interactive games for kids and their families to enjoy. All of which is designed to go within a state-of-the-art plaza, ideas that co-chairs Barbara Suggs and Angela Rivers are working to ensure. Visit Champaign County’s Jayne Deluce is helping to facilitate it.
“We don’t want those stories to get lost. So Visit Champaign County Foundation said we will hold it, we will make sure it stays sustainable for generations to come long after we’re gone so young people today and young people of tomorrow can learn about it in school, experience it, see themselves in that history or just have a respect for the fact that’s what makes our community.”
Within the plaza, there will also be a statue created by Preston Jackson, an African-American artist from Decatur. You’ll eventually find a mural with artwork, seating for performances and much more. But to achieve this, the community has been called on for support. Since many of the stories of African-American leaders were either unrecorded or lost over time, families are being asked to share their own, which you can do by clicking here. You can also sponsor any instruments they plan to place along the second bike path. Finally, you can purchase a brick, either 8×8 for $250 or an 8×4 for $100, all of which will be installed throughout Skelton Park.
“The bricks will be in Skelton Park. In an essence, you’re paving the trail. People can honor a loved one or do something in recognition of their own family. It can be anything they’d like to do as part of that brick,” says Jayne.
So if you choose to donate towards a brick, you can expect to see it installed by the summer, with the overall project estimated to be done by the end of this year. This and the Boneyard Creek Trail are being coordinated together by the City of Champaign and the Champaign Park District. Eventually, there will also be 20 interpretive signs throughout Champaign County, the first of which is already posted in Champaign outside the Big Grove Tavern. It recognizes the visit Frederick Douglass made to Champaign 154 years ago. A testament to how far history reaches.
“To know our history is to know ourselves. I think it’s very important we know ourselves so we can begin to understand who we are as a people, as a community, become friends and work together to make this community even better,” says Angela Rivers.
For those interested in seeing how the trail may come to fruition, you can visit the expansive and detailed website dedicated to this project. There’s a way to explore the trail online here. You’ll also find a timeline section, events and a way to support through your donations in one place.