No-Brand Nudo

Revisiting Roby Trail in Champaign after 36 Years

By my own estimation, it’s been 36 years since I’ve visited Roby Trail at Robeson Park in Champaign. Today, decades later, dear-old Dad and I took a stroll on the path, which is 1.43 miles according to a article. We parked our cars at a church on Duncan Road, walked the length of the path, and then ambled back. Because we veered off course a few times to sightsee, I’d say we walked three miles total.  

Ranked as the No. 15 park in Champaign by Smile Politely in 2021, the 27.5-acre Robeson Park and Roby Trail are wonderful areas to exercise, play, or simply relax. It was created in the year of my birth, 1973, to memorialize F.K. Robeson Sr., who founded Robeson’s Department Store. 

I have especially fond memories of the trail within the park. As a kid, me and the boys from Rolling Acres often climbed on our 10-speed bikes and made the trek “into town” to Roby Trail, where we hit the sidewalk that led directly to the promised land of Walgreens. Once my bike was locked up, I’d head in the store with my friends and pick up a Snickers candy bar for a meager 26 cents. I don’t recall ever getting any other items.

Walking with Dad starting at 6 p.m. on this gorgeous sunny evening, I recalled with fondness the wide-open space at the start of Roby Trail. These days the trees dotting the landscape are much larger and I noticed a packed playground in the distance, plus houses sandwiched the area more than I recall as a youngster. Not as wide open as it was in 1986.

But the park is perhaps nicer and more accommodating these days, especially at the start, where a bench with the word “Relax” allows visitors to do just that. Near the bench are three playful-looking statues of dogs that are so intensely lifelike you want to pat their heads and say “Good doggie.” On the top left portion of the bench it reads, “In Memory of Kyle Robeson/His Love of Animals and Open Spaces.”

My dad, Mr. Alan Nudo

Roby Trail is hilly in spots (for Champaign), and early on in the path there is another resting area to the left – again, this didn’t exist in the mid-1980s. In this space there’s a plaque with poetic sentiments, located in the center of the surrounding benches. We saw a woman sitting down, fiddling with a device in her lap, seemingly not winning against the trials of technology.

I was a tad worried about how I’d do on the walk. The side area near my left knee has been alarmingly twinge-y and achy lately, and I wondered how I’d hold up next to my 74-year-old dad, who is in great shape for his age and walks almost daily when the weather cooperates.

I did fine as it turned out, though my dad informed me at one point he was keeping his pace slower than normal for my benefit (I think he thinks I’m out of shape, which I probably am.) Dad usually walks four miles on another path near his house and invited me to come with sometime. Roby Trail was a good warmup for that future trek.

Actually, it was my dad who had the rougher go of it this evening. As we began crossing creeks over wooden planks and became enclosed by untamed vegetation that held remarkably little trash, a perhaps 6- or 7-year-old child on his bike, coming up from behind us, said “Excuse me” in a pipsqueak voice and proceeded to ram my dad’s right leg from behind. Dad yelled out as the boy crashed to the ground, luckily in the grass to the left of the sidewalk. The boy kept rubbing his toe, and I noticed nothing more than a streak of white on my dad’s leg. I asked if everyone was all right and got no responses. After a minute or so, the child apologized and my dad patted him on the back. He’s just a kid who hasn’t yet learned the art of steering.

Other than that, the walk was filled with good conversation and interesting scenery. Remarkably, Roby Trail begins in a well-to-do area, leads into middle-class normality, and then the houses become smaller and more ramshackle as the path winds down. My dad said it’s good everyone along the way has access to Roby Trail, and I agree.

“My dad said it’s good everyone along the way has access to Roby Trail, and I agree.”

There were spots where I think the path has changed over the decades, which is to be expected with all the new housing. The farther we went, the more I couldn’t help but think the trail was less glamorous and freeing than I remember it being as a kid. I also knew back then that there was a worthwhile end in sight – that Snickers – which I couldn’t wait for. More than three decades later, I hoped for a working knee by trail’s end and that we wouldn’t get hit from behind a second time by a wayward biker.  

Read “Year of the Park, A to Z: Robeson Park, Champaign,” written by Seth Fein, for lots more valuable info on this treasure of an area in Champaign-Urbana.

Pictures by Sal Nudo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: