The proposed location for the Olmsted Overlook is a clearing in the park land along the 100 block of Fairbank Road, which also provides a path to the river. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

The Frederick Law Olmsted Society is proposing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of its namesake’s birth – and the man who designed Riverside’s landmark landscape – with a “living grove of native trees” on public land along the 100 block of Fairbank Road.

Olmsted, considered to be the father of American landscape design, was born April 26, 1822, making next year the bicentennial of his birth. Olmsted-centric organizations around the nation are planning ways to celebrate the occasion, including Riverside’s own.

“There is a national celebration for this,” Cathy Maloney, the president of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, told village trustees during a discussion of the proposal at the June 17 meeting of the village board. “Different events in all Olmsted properties across the nation are happening.”

The Olmsted Overlook, as it is being called, would comprise a roughly 100-foot stretch of park land about halfway between either end of Barrypoint Road and near an opening that provides a path to the Des Plaines River. 

According to a one-page summary of the Olmsted Overlook proposal in the June 17 village board meeting packet, the location was chosen due to its accessibility, view of the river and Swan Pond Park and because it would not interfere with any underground infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines.

If fully realized, the overlook would incorporate eight existing trees and 16 new understory trees and eight new canopy trees. Those new trees would be a mix of native species, including some flowering types that would provide year round visual interest.

The overlook may or may not include a bench closer to the slope down to the river, and the area is meant to celebrate Olmsted’s use of landscape architecture as a way to provide “the uplift of spiritual and physical well-being through nature,” according to the project summary.

The cost to buy the plants is expected to be around $4,500 and funds for those would be collected by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, both by direct donations and the sale of “Olmsted Botanical Boxes” being created by the Riverside company The Seed, which will also donate a special botanical box to the Riverside Public Library for the Olmsted’s 200th birthday next year.

Maloney appeared at the board meeting to get a go-ahead from trustees to begin collecting donations. While Village President Joseph Ballerine indicated starting fundraising efforts would be appropriate, the village board stopped short of full-throated approval.

Trustees wanted more information on how the overlook would be maintained and at what cost. Maloney said that while the Frederick Law Olmsted Society proposed the village provide water that volunteers would handle the actual watering duties.

Trustee Edward Hannon suggested that the organization approach homeowners directly across the street from where the overlook would be located to make sure they didn’t have any objections.

Village Manager Jessica Frances suggested sorting out the financial aspects of maintenance during the village’s budgetary process. But because the 2022 budget won’t be finalized until the fourth quarter of 2021, Maloney worried they might not have enough time to raise the money and finalize the design if the organization had to wait until fall to know whether trustees would approve funding for future maintenance. 

The plan is to plant the trees in the overlook area in spring 2022 to coincide with Olmsted’s birthday.

“I think we need to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before we agree to something of this scale,” Ballerine said. “This is a lot of planting and a lot of work, so I just want to make sure … we can maintain it with our staff. 

“You can go ahead and start your fundraising, but I feel we should make sure we have all the capability to do it.”