The new concrete path along the Des Plaines River in Swan Pond Park snakes gracefully through the trees on either side and is wide enough to accommodate more than one or two pedestrians sharing it at the same time. | Bob Uphues/Editor

There might be a few final touches – such as landscaping – left to complete, but the new walking/bike path along the Des Plaines River in Swan Pond Park in Riverside is complete and in use.

The roughly $600,000 project involved the demolition of the existing asphalt path, installed in 2012 as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regrading of the park, and , in its place, constructing a 10-foot wide, exposed-aggregate concrete path.

Work started in late August and substantially wrapped up in late September. While work crews continue backfilling and landscaping the edges of the path and signs still stand indicating the area is closed, residents and non-residents alike have already flocked back.

And the early returns have indicated that the new path is a hit, even getting the endorsement of some who were critics of the Army Corps’ work making over the park and of the rather inadequate, narrow asphalt path installed as part of that project.

Wider sections create little plazas to pause and admire the landscape flanking the path. | Bob Uphues/Editor

“Nobody was more opposed to the idea than me,” Riverside resident Donald Spatny told elected officials at the village board’s Oct. 7 meeting. “I’m here to tell you that it exceeds, immeasurably, my expectations. It’s really, really nice.”

Spatny had praise specifically for the work performed by the concrete finishers from A Lamp for their skill in laying the meandering path.

“The finish is flawless,” Spatny said. “It’s a tremendous asset and it, in a way, shows a whole new vista when you walk down and you see that snaking meander that’s built into it.”

Late last week, there was plenty of mid-afternoon traffic, a mix of joggers and dog walkers who could pass one another without one of them having to step off the path or navigate sections of asphalt that had washed away during past flood events.

The path is constructed in such a way that in some areas the river-side concrete edge is two feet thick, which ought to help prevent erosion in the future. The river bank will also be protected by the presence of large limestone ledges that are a key feature of the design and serve both a practical and visual purpose.

“This is phenomenal,” said Oak Park resident Charlotte Buy, who was in town for her weekly walk with her dog and to enjoy the serenity of the area. “I don’t want to tell anyone else about it in Oak Park.”

The new path was much more expensive and robust than the one originally planned by the Army Corps, which was to have been a rustic chip-and-seal surface, or the asphalt path the village settled for when the Army Corps said they couldn’t find a contractor to lay the first-choice material.

Bob Uphues/Editor

There had been some thought of replacing the asphalt path with a crushed gravel path since flooding was seen as inevitably damaging any path the village installed. But former Riverside President Ben Sells said it was Edward Bailey, the public works director who retired a year ago, who made the case for using concrete.

“He’s the person who really deserves the credit,” Sells said. “He convinced us that if we did a deep enough pour, we could protect that [eroding] area.”

Sells said the finished path “totally exceeded anything I could’ve hoped for,” but said that in addition to Bailey, credit also went to Village Manager Jessica Frances and state Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside resident who helped get Riverside $350,000 in state funding for the project.

“I don’t think it’s my victory lap to take; it was a joint effort,” Sells said. “What sets it off is the wetland area [that has been allowed to grow naturally, crisscrossed by mown walking paths]. Now you get the feeling you’re walking through nature.”

Not everyone gave the new path a thumbs up, however. Lyons resident Leonard Horacek, who walks through Swan Pond every day, liked the old path better.

“This is more urbanized; the old one was more traditional,” Horacek said. “I think it takes away from the naturalness of the area.”

That said, it hasn’t kept him from walking it and he admitted the work was done well.

“They did a beautiful job,” he said.