By Bob Uphues
Riverside may be poised to drop its longstanding policy of prohibiting fishing, boat launching and picnicking in village parks.
Village President Ben Sells told the Landmark last week that he has asked the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board to consider recommending that the village reverse course on the fishing/picnicking issue to align local laws with recommendations laid out in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) comprehensive plan for the downtown area.
A key component of the CMAP plan calls for greater access and connection to the Des Plaines River. But the village's own laws limit that direct connection to the riverfront by outlawing fishing and picnics, among other things, in public parks.
"The CMAP plan talks about connections to the river, but you won't do that if you can't actually use it," Sells said in a phone interview on June 2.
The park board was supposed to have discussed the issue at its May meeting, but had to postpone debate due to a lack of a quorum.
Riverside village trustees, meanwhile, may get a look at the issue even before the recreation board meets again. On June 15, said Sells, the topic will be part of the village board agenda as an item for discussion only.
"I'm going to put it under 'considerations' so trustees can begin talking about it," Sells said.
The next Parks and Recreation Board meeting is scheduled for July 24.
Sells said that he drafted language amending the village's code. It maintains prohibitions against motorized vehicles in parks and in the river, and it still prohibits fishing from bridges.
Gone in Sells' recommended language are prohibitions against fishing in parks, launching/disembarking from boats in parks and picnicking. Sells' recommended amendment, however, maintains a ban on the use of grills and fire pits (except at the Scout Cabin) and would require any gathering of 10 or more people in a public park to obtain a permit at least 24 hours in advance.
Traditionally, Riverside has maintained a hard line against picnicking and fishing due to potential nuisances, including trash and noise. Flouting laws against picnicking, fishing and launching boats can result in a $35 fine under the current law.
Sells, however, argued the village has other ways to address nuisances.
"My view has always been that we have laws on the books that'd take care of potential problems," Sells said.
The last time the Riverside Village Board broached the topic of picnicking in parks was back in 2011 after a resident brought up the subject at a board meeting and asked trustees to consider loosening restrictions on picnics.
Sells, a trustee at the time, suggested sending the matter to the Parks and Recreation Board for consideration, but a majority of the village board rejected that suggestion.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine, who was also on the board in 2011, said some changes since then have paved the way for reconsideration of the fishing and boating bans. Removing the Hofmann Dam in 2012, for example, eliminated a safety hazard.
"The river is no longer a liability, it's an asset," said Ballerine.
As far as picnicking, the proposal is a way to designate picnic areas for larger groups, he said. The Scout Cabin, which is set up to accommodate larger gatherings, is one such option.
"I think it's got a good chance of working its way through," Ballerine said.
Discussion around amending the village's code with respect to fishing and picnicking coincides with the Parks and Recreation Department's first-ever kids fishing derby, slated for Sunday, June 11 from 3 to 6 p.m. in Swan Pond Park.
Kids in four different age groups between the ages of 3 and 15 (parents can assist kids ages 3-5) will compete for prizes for the highest number of fish caught. All fish must be released after being caught.
More information is available on the village's website www.riverside.il.us or by calling 708-442-7025.