You might not have known it, but Riverside hosted a regatta in 2017.
Of course, it was a mighty small regatta – three kayakers in all – who paddled under the radar along the bend of the Des Plaines River forming the southern end Riverside’s First Division all the way to the Swinging Bridge.
With the village still officially discouraging launching and landing boats on Riverside’s riverbank, Connie Schmidt, Alex Gallegos and Tom Sisulak didn’t want to draw a crowd that might get them in hot water.
They also wanted to make sure such a paddle would be feasible for a larger group when they publicly invited people to join them on June 24 at 10 a.m. for the 2nd Annual Scuff Gross Memorial Riverside Kayaking Regatta, named in honor of the late longtime Riverside Township assessor and avid boating enthusiast.
“It was a thrill to see the view of the village from the river and retracing my dad’s steps on the river,” said Schmidt, one of Gross’ three daughters, who launched the regatta last year along with Gross’ Lions Club colleague, Gallegos, and his American Legion compatriot, Sisulak.
“I only wish I could have done it with him,” she said.
Gross served as Riverside Township assessor for 40 years, retiring in 2009. He died on July 4, 2016 at the age of 88. He had an adventurous streak, said Schmidt, and a lifelong love of sailing and boating, which started as a child with a canoe on the Des Plaines River.
“My dad loved the river,” said Schmidt, who is president of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and now lives in far west suburban Warrenville, though she remains a member of Riverside Presbyterian Church, where her father was a deacon.
She recalled one story her father told of a time when he was 12 or 13 and he and a friend capsized their canoe on a fast-moving Des Plaines near Swan Pond.
His friend grabbed a tree branch and pulled himself ashore. Gross attempted to swim after the canoe, giving up at the Ogden Avenue bridge. He walked back to downtown Riverside where he found the fire department in the midst of a recovery operation – for him.
Schmidt said kayaking along Riverside’s banks was a lifelong dream, but one that had been variously prevented in the past by two dams and the village’s stance against boats launching and landing there.
“It’s something I wanted to do all my life – to view Riverside from a different perspective,” Schmidt said. “Seeing it from the banks, looking up at the houses and landscape was a lovely way to view the town.”
In June, the founding trio are inviting the public to join them in honoring Gross. Kayakers are instructed to meet in the McCormick Woods at 31st Street and First Avenue in North Riverside at 10 a.m. Participants are responsible for bringing their own kayaks and IDNR-required life vests.
The group will launch from there and head downstream, gathering as a group near the base of the library before paddling en masse to the Swinging Bridge. Kayakers will continue downstream to the exit point, the Stony Ford Canoe Landing at 43rd Street and Oak Avenue in Lyons.
Participants are invited to gather afterwards at La Barra restaurant in downtown Riverside. There’s no need to register to participate, though more information is available at www.facebook.com/events/415986232158972.