Riverside has often benefited from the generosity of volunteers — both organizations and individuals — who love the village and want to do what they can to maintain it and improve it.
Sometimes, though, it’s better when the village itself steps up and completes an improvement, even if the idea comes from an energetic, enthusiastic, well-meaning volunteer who can conceive of the project, enlist a cadre of helpers and provide the labor.
The shrub-clearance effort behind the township hall (which eventually extended far west of the township hall and grew to include clearing both the upper and lower banks of the river the area) is a case in point.
For the last few weeks, the area immediately below the bluff where the township hall sits has been littered with fallen trees and shrubs, which were cut down to open up a view to the river that hadn’t been seen in decades. The view is beautiful. If you haven’t taken a look, do yourself a favor.
The trees and shrubs, with the blessing of the village board (even if village staff members were a little uneasy with the arrangement), were cut down by a group of volunteers organized by Jerry Buttimer.
Initially, Buttimer had come to the board to pitch clearing the area immediately behind the township hall to clear a path that would connect the swinging bridge with Swan Pond Park for a 5K run that would serve as a fundraiser for Riverside-Brookfield High School.
When the race plans fell through, the clearance effort became village-centric — a way to show off how attractive the area was, giving a kind of glimpse into how it would look if the old Youth Center next to the township hall was demolished and replaced with something else that could take advantage of its riverbank location.
But the village lost control of the project, which grew into not only shrub clearance but some minor earth moving as well. This is when the village stepped in and said, “Enough.”
The village is taking over the shrub removal and re-landscaping of the upper bank. Some sort of fence will presumably ensure that no one wandering around behind the township hall falls off the bluff.
The volunteer spirit behind the effort was laudable and the physical effort expended by those involved was truly admirable. But this isn’t the way public lands ought to be improved/re-envisioned.
If a public project is worth undertaking, then the public body should be responsible for doing the work and making sure the plan is in the best interests of the entire village. This isn’t to say the village shouldn’t take advantage or encourage volunteerism — it should. But the village has to exercise the appropriate control over the effort to safeguard not only the volunteers assisting them but the public lands they’re entrusted to care for.
And when elected officials give their public blessing to volunteers to go ahead with their suggestions, those officials need to make certain that village staff, who ultimately will be charged with making sure the work is done right and safely, are on board and have the authority to control the things they need to control.