Turns out former Riverside Public Works Director Edward Bailey knew what he was talking about.

There might have been a little trepidation — we here at the Landmark harbored private fears – that a 10-foot wide ribbon of concrete running the length of Swan Pond Park along the Des Plaines River could turn out to be an eyesore.

At 10 feet wide, it was wider than the traditional paths running through the forest preserves, plus such a width of concrete could have made the path look more like a road. Let’s be honest, it is wide enough to allow vehicles to drive on it.

And then there’s the material itself. Concrete can come off so white and jarring, even at sidewalk width, imagining it at 10-feet, well, there were land mines is all we’re saying.

But the path Riverside ended up with, and the limestone ledges used to prevent further erosion of the river bank in certain areas, look entirely appropriate for the location. The work is top-notch and it is far and away an improvement over what had been built in 2012.

It was Bailey who pushed for the use of concrete over other materials. He was convinced if it was poured deep enough in key spots – and in those spots it’s a good two-feet thick – it would not be as prone to erosion. He stood firm on that recommendation despite the cost, and his advice has been rewarded with something Riverside can point to with pride.

The secondary lesson in Swan Pond Park is that it also appears to have been the right call to allow the landscape in the north end of the park to largely take its natural course. With paths mown through it, visitors are treated to a nature walk filled with wildlife and flowers.

It will take some work to keep such a landscape from being overtaken by invasive species, but the concept is the right one, we think. Some may yearn for the days when soccer games could be played down there – when the field wasn’t flooded and the goals halfway up the posts with water – but recent weather events have shown those days are over.

Swan Pond Park is a floodplain that nature is trying to reclaim. It’s best to work with it than fight against it.

A fine steward

To say that Brookfield Zoo is not the same place it was in 2003 would be understating the matter. Under the leadership of Stuart Strahl, the Chicago Zoological Society transformed the park it operates, boldly replacing some of the oldest and most beloved exhibits with ones offering up-close encounters and opportunities for conservation education.

While there are some who have lamented the changes, Brookfield Zoo has also transformed itself into an event venue capable of generating valuable revenue to help fund future improvements and amenities, which are necessary for the zoo to compete and remain a top attraction.

With money from Cook County ever more precious, Strahl and the society’s board have made some hard decisions to make sure the zoo remains profitable. The past year and a half made it that much more difficult for places like Brookfield Zoo, but due to Strahl’s efforts the future remains bright.