It seems obtuse to say that the Des Plaines River is a big part of Riverside. Of course it is. That the village is here at all is due in large part to the river (the railroad line was critical as well, but that line extends a long way), which bends dramatically around Riverside’s southern tip.
The trouble is, for so many years the river was mostly invisible unless you were crossing the Barrypoint Bridge on your way in or out of town.
That has changed in the last couple of years. At first, it was the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, with the help of the village’s forestry department, which began removing buckthorn and other invasive plants along the riverbank fronting Riverside Road.
In the past year, armed with the central business district plan completed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in 2013, village government is taking things a step further.
Now, in addition to the Riverside Road vistas toward the river, there are new ones along Bloomingbank Road, where buckthorn and other shrubs all but obscured views of the river.
And with the coming of the emerald ash borer, the village saw an opportunity to turn the loss of so many trees into an action plan. The result so far is a newly widened and accessible walking path extending from the Scout Cabin to Indian Gardens. Eventually, that path will extend all the way to the Barrypoint Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, of course, is Swan Pond Park, where the path extends even further.
Someday, there could be a path extending from the Swim Club all the way to Miller Woods.
This is something that might have happened at any time in recent decades, but it’s happening now, we believe, for a couple of reasons.
First, the CMAP plan was made board policy back in 2013. Of course, the board has adopted many other plans in the past as policy. The difference this time is that the board is actually acting to implement those policies.
The riverfront action is part of a larger effort in Riverside to revitalize the downtown, which is where the CMAP plan was focused.
One of the main differences between this board and prior boards is that there is political will to act on these policies, to put funds toward making them happen, and empowering village staff to think big.
The riverfront path can be a draw for those outside of Riverside. It can be an educational tool for residents young and old. It can be a nature area that can be enjoyed by all.
Sure, it’s a bit disconcerting to see those tree trunks sitting in Indian Gardens, stacked like Paul Bunyan’s cord wood. That’s a lot of trees right there.
But those removals are part of a plan to restore the natural woodland areas of Riverside, encourage the growth of native species and treat the village to a natural haven.
It’s something future boards need to commit to, to prevent a central feature of the village, the river, from being obscured again