Riverside trustees appear to be leaning toward changing long-standing prohibitions against fishing and picnicking in village parks, despite a call from some residents to keep the bans in place.
The village board won’t act until the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board can weigh in on the issue, but during a preliminary discussion at the village board’s June 15 meeting, a majority of board members appeared to favor lifting the bans.
“My interest in bringing this out for discussion is that we’re Riverside,” said Village President Ben Sells. “I mean, we were founded because of our intimate connection to the river, our natural beauty and the natural access and use of the river, which is exactly what Olmsted intended for our village.”
Riverside has banned both fishing from the banks of the Des Plaines River within the village and picnicking in village parks for decades. The law presently on the books dates to the 1980s.
Gage Road resident Allison Vollman reminded Sells and village trustees of the reasons behind the bans in a statement she read at the meeting, asking officials to maintain the prohibitions.
“I don’t want to see groups of people gathered across the street from my home, picnicking in the commons or fishing on the riverbanks,” Vollman said. “I’d venture to say the majority of these individuals would not be Riverside residents, as residents would likely be enjoying their own yards.”
Vollman said she feared that the village’s riverbanks would become like the nearby Cermak Woods forest preserve in Lyons, featuring “people, music, pets, food, liquor, coolers and grills.”
While Sells said that other village laws prohibit all of those things, Vollman wondered about the village’s ability to enforce those laws.
“I’m not sure what changing this would benefit a resident,” she said. “I don’t see a benefit to the village.”
Trustee Wendell Jisa agreed that trash could become an issue along the river if the bans were lifted.
“If we open this up, there might be some risks from a cleanliness perspective, and how do you manage that?” Jisa asked.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine suggested clear rules restricting larger picnics to certain locations, such as the Scout Cabin, which is the only facility with restrooms, a grill and accommodations for larger groups. He also suggested larger groups get a permit at least 72 hours in advance.
Ballerine also acknowledged that issues with fishermen along the banks in Lyons through the years were real and likely contributed to Riverside banning them.
“Fishing on the other side has had its ups and downs. Part of that history is what brought this to fruition in the first place,” Ballerine said. “There was a time that wasn’t a good scene over there.”
Sells said he understood the legacy of the bans and that he seriously considered past concerns. However, he argued that the bans ran counter to the village’s values.
“When I see a family in Guthrie Park with a blanket and think, ‘They’re breaking the law,’ that sounds so incredibly ludicrous to me,” Sells said. “I don’t know whether they’re residents from Riverside or not residents from Riverside. It seems so thematically and philosophically contrary to what our community is supposed to stand for.”
Trustee Scott Lumsden called lifting the bans, particularly on fishing and boat launching, “an awesome opportunity for passive usage” of the parks.
Lumsden said kids, including his own, regularly fish from the banks in Swan Pond Park and that “we need to provide a way so they’re not doing it illegally.”
Trustee Doug Pollock agreed that lifting the bans was probably needed. As far as concerns regarding trash and noise, Pollock said the board had the ability to reverse course at any time.
“In terms of unintended consequences, [lifting the bans] can be revoked at any board meeting,” Pollock said.
The Riverside Parks and Recreation Board is expected to discuss the issue at its June 22 meeting. The matter could come back to the village board for a vote later in July.