For the past several years, the trend in Riverside has been to try to get something for nothing, or nearly so. When the national economy collapsed and there was a fear that Riverside’s municipal fiscal fortunes would follow, there was a renewed call for a spirit of volunteerism.
It was heeded and embraced. The Fourth of July celebration, the Riverside Arts Fair (now the Riverside Arts Weekend), a central business district planting campaign were all volunteer-led efforts.
Another, lower key but no less important, volunteer effort was pushed by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society’s landscape committee – clearing the buckthorn out of a good-sized chunk of riverbank along Riverside Road and transforming the view of the Des Plaines River there – which is to say there is a view of the Des Plaines now. Previously, that stretch of Riverside Road was like all other areas along the river – an impenetrable wall of buckthorn.
The village’s Public Works Department joined in with the Olmsted Society and has worked with their volunteers to clear out that patch of riverbank. The result is astonishing.
But it’s back-breaking work for a group of older adult volunteers. Especially in that area, where the bank slopes sharply from Riverside Road toward the river, it’s also a bit risky.
What the buckthorn clearance has shown beyond doubt, however, is that Riverside could open up magnificent views of the river elsewhere in the village if only there were a phalanx of tireless volunteers eager to devote a decade of weekends to removing an invasive species (that has a habit of not dying) on public lands.
Volunteers are great for raising money and providing the sweat equity for smaller-scale, more contained efforts like the downtown planting program and the arts weekend. But when it comes to transformative public works projects, ones that could really put Riverside’s money where its mouth is when it comes to honoring the legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, the municipal government needs to step in and make it a priority.
The money is there.
Despite past pleas for tax increases and continued fretting over the long-term financial future, Riverside remains in a healthy – other towns would call it enviable – fiscal position.
The latest audit of the village’s finances shows that Riverside has $6.2 million in its general fund reserve, which represents 84 percent of the village’s annual spending. Almost $3.8 million (more than 50 percent of annual expenditures) of that total represents unassigned reserves.
What the public-private partnership yielded on Riverside Road has been great, but we suggest the village board look at funding a long-term buckthorn eradication program targeting the areas along Bloomingbank, Fairbank and Riverside roads following the template already developed.
That kind of expense will yield tangible results, enhance the village’s standing as a National Historic Landmark and reclaim Olmsted’s vision of making the riverbank a village asset – instead of hiding it behind a tangle of shrubbery.