Throw some sandwiches in that wicker hamper, grab your fishing pole and tackle box and head on down to the banks of the Des Plaines River in Swan Pond Park – without being a shameful law flouter – because the village of Riverside now allows both fishing from riverbanks and picnicking in parks.
Trustees voted unanimously on Oct. 19 to change the village laws, which have been on the books since at least 1987, banning both practices.
The village board signaled its intent to overturn the bans in June, when it was clear a majority of trustees favored allowing both fishing – a ban routinely ignored by children and adults alike – and picnicking.
While the board did get some pushback from residents, particularly regarding picnicking from homeowners who live near the river, trustees agreed that the ban ran counter to the village’s wish to be viewed as a welcoming place.
That said, if you want to pack a picnic, there are still some rules, including exactly where picnics will be allowed.
The new law identifies nine places where picnicking will be permitted, for groups of up to eight people. Those parks are Harrington Park, Swan Pond Park, Guthrie Park, Centennial Park, Big Ball Park, Turtle Park, Patriots Park, Indian Gardens and the Scout Cabin.
Any group of eight or more must get a permit from the Parks and Recreation department at least 72 hours in advance. The goal of limiting the number of picnickers before triggering the need for a permit is to ensure that larger social events are directed to appropriate places, like the Scout Cabin.
Grilling and the use of a fire pit are allowed only at the Scout Cabin, where those amenities already exist. The village board in passing the new law has also directed staff to draft a “leave no trace” policy with regard to picnickers cleaning up after themselves. The village may require larger groups to leave a deposit when they obtain a permit to ensure that policy is followed.
It’s already not uncommon for the Scout Cabin to be used by larger groups for gatherings. According to Trustee Joseph Ballerine, around 30 groups have applied for permits to use the Scout Cabin in 2017.
Ballerine said that while the new policy doesn’t do anything new with respect to getting a permit to use the Scout Cabin, he suggested that the law differentiate between a picnic and an organized event.
“Organized events have to be held at an area that is built for picnics, and that’s really the Scout Cabin unless there’s a specific reason why we don’t go there,” Ballerine said.
A “picnic” is not defined in the ordinance, but Village President Ben Sells argued a definition, which would be hard to come up with, wasn’t necessary. Limiting the number of people allowed to eight before requiring a permit, he suggested would do that.
If larger groups gathering for picnics in Riverside’s parks becomes an issue, he said, “If we feel in the future it needs to be more restrictive or more permissive then we can always do that later.”
Both Ballerine and Sells agreed that overturning the picnic ban likely wouldn’t make much difference in the way the village’s parks are being used presently.
Fishing is now allowed from the riverbank in Riverside anywhere except from bridges or where signs prohibit fishing. Anyone over the age of 16 must have a state fishing license and the village’s Parks and Recreation Department has been tasked with creating a fishing program to educate children about the pastime.
In addition, the new law also reverses a prior ban on landing and/or launching boats from the riverbank. While the village has not yet identified where that will be allowed, the amended law states that boat launching/landing will be allowed from “locations approved by the Parks and Recreation Department.”
Ballerine wondered whether the village might have to construct specific launch areas to prevent liability should anyone injure themselves launching or landing a boat at a designated location.
Village Manager Jessica Frances said she would consult with the village’s risk management firm to identify and recommend the locations.
Trustee Scott Lumsden suggested that a handful of locations be identified, but also said it wasn’t necessary to do much more than that. Liability concerns, he felt, were overstated.
“I think that’s all we need to do, and not overthink this thing,” Lumsden said.