It was just a year ago that the scope of the damage to Swan Pond Park became crystal clear. When snows finally thawed following a particularly brutal winter, Swan Pond Park — once the jewel in the crown of lush Riverside green spaces — was essentially destroyed.
A year later, it’s not much better.
While the debris deposited in the park by winter flooding in 2014 has been cleared away and the damage done to the riverbank and retaining wall has been repaired, the park itself remains scarred and virtually useless.
Rainwater still collects in the swale depression on the north end of the park and stagnates in front of the culvert which was built to carry it out to the Des Plaines River by way of an underground drainage pipe.
A mat of native grasses, physically lifted and moved from its proper place in the swale, is taking firm hold in its new home several yards from where it is supposed to be; the protective fence around it is trampled and twisted.
The huge chunks of earth, scraped up by ice flows that carved up the park during flooding in January and February 2014 and now sit where they were deposited, are softened by the time and turf.
But the park, once home to summer soccer games and people letting their dogs frolic in the sunshine, is typically deserted. The ground is either too wet and muddy to walk on or too uneven to be safe.
In short, Swan Pond Park is a mess.
“I’m just disgusted by it,” said Riverside Village President Ben Sells in an interview last week with the Landmark.
The area has always been a flood plain and has served as a reservoir after large rain events and snow melt. But when things dried out in the summer, the park was always more or less usable.
In 2012, as part of the project to remove the Hofmann and Fairbank dams on the Des Plaines River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it was going to regrade Swan Pond Park in order to allow it to drain faster after floods and heavy rains. A bed of native plants at a low spot on the north end would help absorb storm water and serve as a collection point on the water’s way out of the park.
The Army Corps also constructed a concrete culvert, connecting to a drainage pipe, that exits the park at the riverbank. All of the improvements were supposed to make the park work better.
“It obviously doesn’t work,” said Sells. “That last winter was exceptional, but the Army Corps came out and claimed the native grasses would retake and it’d work and [then] walked away. It doesn’t work.”
Now Sells, who was a village trustee when the dam removal project took place, wonders if regrading project was necessary.
“What I still don’t understand is, why was it even done? I’m not sure what the point of it was. I think it was ruined,” Sells said.
Some repairs were made to the park last year. The Army Corps of Engineers repaired a section of the riverbank near the drainage pipe that had eroded severely in the winter flooding.
Meanwhile, the village rebuilt and heightened a portion of the stone retaining wall along the river bank near the former site of the Fairbank Dam, where huge blocks of ice that had jammed on the river during thaws in January and February of 2014 smashed through into the park.
Sections of the asphalt walking path along the river bank were also repaired and, of course, truckloads of debris were removed from the park itself.
But while village officials assured residents that the park would be addressed either late in 2014 or early 2015, it’s now clear not much will happen until at least 2016. The village board didn’t earmark any funds for park repairs in its 2015 budget, and officials have not yet mapped out an approach to fix the damage.
“I think this is going to have to be something we tackle in our 2016 capital plan,” said Sells.
In the meantime, Sells said that the next step likely would be asking the village’s engineering firm, Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd. to look at the situation and propose some sort of solution the village board can consider.