Champaign County trails offer a fun way to support local businesses

If you're tired of being cooped up in your house because of the repeated bouts of cold and snow, the Champaign County Chamber and Visitor's Bureau recently released a Wine Trail map to give you some ideas of where to go and what to do.

"After the pandemic started, we at the visitor's bureau were trying to come up with ideas to promote things that were safe and still would help support local businesses," says Sara Neer, executive director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau. "We started doing these trails - putting little tours together."

In early summer 2020, the chamber started with a Family Fun Trail to showcase fun, inexpensive, COVID-19-safe local things families could take advantage of within Champaign County. That trail included Melvin Miller Park, Carmazzi's candy shop, the Gloria Theatre, and Grimes Field.

The most recently released trail is the Wine Trail, which features both wineries and local restaurants that serve a wide variety of wines. Some stops include Folck Winery, Dragonfly Vineyard and Wine Cellar, and Cafe Paradiso.

"Even if a person sees it and they don't do the entire trail, they look at it and say, 'Oh, I forgot about that place, or oh, I didn't know about that new restaurant,'" Neer says. "It opens people's eyes to what's right here - not only for visitors, but also for local people. They can see that you don't have to travel far to still have fun in your own backyard."

The inspiration for the trails first came after Neer saw the Butler County Donut Trail promoted at an event she was attending. She says she knew similar ideas of trails would work well in Champaign County.

Since the Family Fun Trail, the chamber has also created an Outdoor Adventure Trail, a Heritage Trail, a Coffee Trail and now the Wine Trail. All the trails can be found under the Places to Visit tab on the visitor's bureau homepage.

Neer says though all the trails have had good response, the Coffee Trail and the Wine Trail have had the greatest followings so far. She says social media has helped to spread the word about the trails quickly near and far.

The chamber is already working on the next trail - a Pizza Trail - and that the ultimate goal is to both share all the great things to do in Champaign County while also helping promote local businesses.

"By supporting these trails, you're supporting local businesses and a lot of non-profits that have been hit hard by the pandemic," Neer says. "And, you get to explore the hidden gems that are right in Champaign County."
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.