CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Skelton Park in Champaign will soon pay tribute to the area’s rich history of African American arts and music with a new $500,000 project.

The park district broke ground Tuesday on a transformation of the park that will honor the legacy of Champaign County’s many influential African American musicians. The development is made possible through a partnership with Experience Champaign-Urbana and the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail.

African American Heritage Trail co-chair Barbara Suggs-Mason said their contributions go back centuries.

“We’re looking at bands that started in the late 1800s,” Suggs-Mason said. “Jazz bands in the 20’s. Gospel musicians and church musicians who’ve led choirs.”

The completed park is expected to include a small gathering area for performances, new pathways, interactive musical instruments and a steel sculpture designed by a local artist.

Angela Rivers is Suggs-Mason’s cousin, and the other African American Heritage Trail co-chair. She applauded the city’s idea of designing the area as a way of honoring those artists and said spaces like this make sure their contributions to Champaign last forever. 

“This park is kind of like the visual culmination of what we’ve been attempting to do over the last two years,” Rivers said. “If we don’t tell our story, who will? And it’s very important that people, both folks that have been here for a while and newcomers coming in, know about the rich history of Champaign County.”

Park officials said the public can expect a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a celebratory party when the project finishes in the spring of 2024.