One thing that’s become crystal clear since the removal of the Hofmann Dam on the Des Plaines River just west of the Barrypoint Road bridge and the smaller Fairbank Dam east of the bridge back in 2012 is that the area downstream in Swan Pond Park is a much different place.
Whether it’s due to a hydrologic change resulting from the dams’ removal or the effect of a changing climate and upstream development, Swan Pond Park has reverted to its origins as principally a flood basin.
There may have been a long stretch of time where kids could play soccer there and folks could wander through Swan Pond Park’s meadow-like field without risking a twisted ankle, but those days appear to be past.
The park itself has flooded repeatedly – unhelped or, some believe, aided by a drainage culvert installed in 2012 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – making the most usable part of the park the path that winds atop the riverbank from Burling Road to the Barrypoint bridge.
The path was also built in 2012, and its shortcomings were apparent early on. First, it was too narrow in most places for two people to walk side by side much less let a bike or other pedestrians pass by without veering off the path.
Less than a year later, a devastating spring flood washed out parts of the path and a couple of winter floods in 2014 did serious damage to the path and the park itself when huge chunks of ice scoured their way through Swan Pond.
It’s been clear for a long time now that the asphalt path was going to have to go and now, with $400,000 in grant money from the state and Cook County in hand, it appears a better solution is on the way.
Riverside trustees appear to be in complete agreement on this score, which is good, because the solution is one that would never have passed muster in 2012. The 10-foot wide concrete path will be underpinned in key spots by thicker concrete edging and the river bank will be stabilized using large limestone ledges.
This might seem to be a remarkably large introduction of hardscape into the village’s jewel of a landscape. In the past, we’re guessing, there would have been howls of protest in the name of Frederick Law Olmsted.
It goes to show just how much Riverside has changed in terms of its relationship with its founding father. Olmsted’s original plan, which in many ways appears completely natural but was as man-made an imposition on the landscape as any real estate development, is still a wonder. But, 150 years later, it doesn’t dictate how 21st century Riverside residents enjoy their village.
When it’s finished, the new path will provide access for more people to come into Swan Pond Park and immerse themselves in nature and revel in the river and its wildlife. It will hopefully be able to withstand what are certain to be more flood events, but it ought to do a better job in any case than what’s there now.
As a couple of trustees noted at a recent discussion of the path, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference in Swan Pond Park. It’s time for that investment to finally be made.