Riverside’s public works director last week said it will take months to restore Swan Pond Park to any kind of usable shape after the damage done to the park during two severe flood events earlier this year.
The park’s riverbank, retaining wall, walking path, trees and turf suffered terribly as giant blocks of ice scored the park when water trapped behind ice jams on the Des Plaines River surged over the park’s river bank during thaws in both January and February.
“It’s sobering,” said Public Works Director Edward Bailey during a tour of the park last week. “I’ve wondered what it was going to look like once the water receded, and now we’re seeing it. It took a pounding, a real beating.”
Bailey said the plan right now is to use his employees to clean up and repair most of the damage done. And because his crews will also have to attend to other areas of the village, it’s going to take some time.
“If it’s just my department working, it would take us all summer,” said Bailey.
At this point, Riverside also has no idea just how much it will need to spend in manpower and material to clean up the park. Bailey estimated that repairing the severe riverbank erosion near the culvert outfall at $8,000 to $9,000 if the village had to hire a firm to do the work. The plan right now is to do the work in-house, but the scope of the repair isn’t finalized.
In any case, it won’t be until May, at the earliest, that the work can begin. Riverside has submitted a permit to do the work with the Army Corps of Engineers, since it involves a state waterway.
For three months, the full damage to the park was camouflaged by snow and massive chunks of ice. But as the ice and snow melted in the second half of March, the park resembled a wasteland, unrecognizable as Swan Pond Park.
Toward the southern end, where the water and ice entered, the power of the massive ice blocks was written on the trunk of nearly every tree. While mature trees suffered massive gouges at their bases, smaller ones stand at 45-dgree angles. The bark facing the river was shorn off from top to bottom as ice floes ran them down.
“I don’t know if they’re going to survive or not,” Bailey said of the smaller trees.
River rock and large chunks of the retaining wall along the river bank were blown well into the park itself by the force of the water. Areas near the asphalt walking path were eroded, collapsing portions of the path.
One of the first jobs to be tackled by public works crews will be to stabilize areas of the walking path that were undercut by floodwater and, in some cases, collapsed. The same area of the path suffered the same kind of damage during flooding in April 2013. More damage in the same area raises the question of whether continually saving the asphalt path is worth the effort.
“Almost nothing will withstand that type of flooding; even a concrete sidewalk would’ve suffered damage,” Bailey said. “We’re going to have to try to repair it, but at the end of the day the next flood event might undo the repairs we did.”
In other areas of the park, where water pooled until it eventually poured out of Swan Pond further north, is a tangle of thousands of tree branches, tree trunks and other debris, including a tractor tire, a railroad tie, a wooden picnic table and random trash.
Near the drainage culvert installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012 as part of the Hofmann Dam removal project, there used to be a fenced-off area where a mat of native plants was installed. The plants were to aid in absorbing standing water in the park after high-water events.
The mat is still in the park, but it’s no longer in the right place. The force of the water and ice lifted the mat, turned it 90 degrees, and moved it north of its original location. Along with the plant mat, the ice gouged huge sections of earth from the park and moved them elsewhere.
As of late last week, the river level was high enough that a sizeable area of the park near the drainage culvert was covered by water, obscuring the extent of the damage there.
There must be big divots out there some place,” Bailey said. “This is going to be a big challenge. We might not even have the equipment to do this.”
Public works crews will have to wait until the park dries out before they can enter the center of the park on foot or in vehicles. That could take weeks, given the amount of water that still exists there.
“My plan is to start plugging away at it and preserve what we can so it doesn’t get worse,” Bailey said.
And even after the park has been cleared of debris, its contours smoothed and the landscape replanted, no one knows what the next heavy weather event will do to the park.
“It’ll be a couple of years before we see what the grading will be and what the landscape will end up looking like,” said Village Manager Peter Scalera.