With just a few weeks remaining before winter sets in, the village of Riverside is largely taking over a volunteer project to clear the area behind the Riverside Township Hall to provide a link between Swan Pond Park and the swinging bridge and to provide better views of the Des Plaines River.

On Oct. 24, Village Manager Peter Scalera met with Riverside resident Jerry Buttimer to settle on a plan of action for finishing the project, which began in September as a simple path-clearing and then morphed into a major shrub and tree removal effort along the river’s retaining wall from the swinging bridge to behind the Riverside Public Library.

“There’s a very small window of opportunity, so we have to move very quickly now,’ said Scalera. “Hopefully we can start [this] week.”

Scalera said he was obtaining proposals from local landscaping companies to remove fallen trees and shrubs that now litter the riverbank for about 400 feet behind the township hall and library. He also said the companies are being asked to quote prices for cutting the remaining stumps to the ground and applying herbicide to make sure they don’t quickly grow back.

In addition, the companies are being asked to replant the area directly behind the township hall with a natural ground cover that will mix grasses and flowers and won’t block passage through the area by pedestrians, said Scalera.

“We’re looking for something that won’t require significant maintenance,” he said.

The village has been moving toward taking over control of the project since the shrub removal on both the upper and lower banks of the riverbank started in September. While the village board appeared supportive of the effort, it made village staff nervous.

A cadre of volunteers working with chainsaws on a steep riverbank was a liability issue, even though the volunteers signed waivers. Village staff were also not pleased when some modest regrading was done to level a steep slope along part of the upper bank.

“Staff did not provide the go-ahead to do that,” said Scalera.

Buttimer and the village also did not see eye to eye on what type of fence to erect along the edge of the cleared area. Buttimer had pitched a black chain-link fence as a cheap and easy solution that, he said, wouldn’t obstruct views or be very noticeable from the far side of the river.

But both the Riverside Preservation Commission and Landscape Advisory Commission shot down chain-link as a solution. According to Scalera, Buttimer is still involved with the project with respect to obtaining an appropriate fence.

“I thought that was the practical mid-term answer until you get development [of the former Youth Center to the east of the township hall],” said Buttimer. “I thought that would meet the highest standard for safety.”

It’s not clear what the final fence solution will be for the area. Presently, the area is cordoned off by temporary fencing.

Scalera has been adamant that the cleared area should not be considered an official path, despite Buttimer’s initial hope that the cleared area could serve as part of a 5K race course for an event that since has been scrapped.

“What the board agreed to do was open up the area so the river could be viewed,” said Scalera. “It’s not intended to be a walking path for individuals.”

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