Frederick Law Olmsted

All across the United States this spring, cities and towns with connections to Frederick Law Olmsted will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the pioneering American landscape architect’s birth.

Events include walking tours, lectures, exhibits, even a carillon festival. But in Riverside, where Olmsted harnessed his landscape vision for the first time for an entire municipality, they’re going big.

They’re planting a forest.

OK, it’s more a small grove of trees that will planted sometime next month along the 100 block of Fairbank Road among the existing oak, hickory, hackberry and walnut trees atop the bluff looking east over Swan Pond Park and the Des Plaines River.

Called the Olmsted Overlook, it will be a one-of-a-kind tribute to the man whose name is forever linked to Riverside through the winding, planned natural landscape he designed.

“Given that 2022 is the 200th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth and Riverside is his first planned community, the overlook seems a unique and fitting tribute to the evolution of landscape design in the United States,” said Yvonne Lucero, president of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, during comments at the Riverside Village Board’s meeting on Feb. 17.

The plan for the overlook, conceived by landscape architect Shawn Sinn, who donated his time to the Frederick Law Olmsted Society for the project, includes about 20 native tree species. They include a variety of understory and canopy trees, with some like flowering dogwoods, redbud and sugar maple chosen for seasonal interest.

Other species include blue beech, pagoda dogwood, American beech, common witch hazel and ironwood. There’s even a fruit tree on the list – the pawpaw – which will be planted in three spots, according to the plan.

Over time, the grove should blend in with the surrounding greenspace, and while it’s unlikely there will be signage to educate visitors about the Olmsted Overlook, Cathy Maloney, a Frederick Law Olmsted Society board member and former chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, said the overlook may be formally designated within the map of the Riverside Arboretum. The village was designated an arboretum in 2015.

“It’ll be good if it blends into the scenery,” Maloney said. “Shawn Sinn designed it with Olmsted principles for a look of not being contrived.”

The grove, said Maloney, was designed to simulate a “climax forest,” that is representing the last ecological stage of succession for such a woodland in this region. The succession would have started with grasses and then “pioneer” plants, including the first short-lived trees until reaching its ecological “climax” with oak, maple and beech trees.

“So, there’s a nod to that in this [planted grove] as well,” Maloney said.

Maloney first brought the Olmsted Overlook proposal to the village board last June, where it met with some caution by village trustees, particularly with respect to the time and cost for maintaining the young trees.

On Feb. 17, village trustees voted to accept a plan for Olmsted Society volunteers to water the trees for the first three years of the overlook’s existence. Maloney estimated that represents about 200 hours of work during that time period. Watering likely would be weekly, Maloney told the Landmark.

The village will allow the volunteers to use a fire hydrant nearby and provide a hose. The cost for the water would be less than $50 annually, according to Public Works Director Dan Tabb.

Trees of the Olmsted Overlook will be trimmed by the village forester for the first 15 years every five years.

Orders for the trees have already been placed with local nurseries, Maloney said, and ought to be ready for pickup in early April. The Olmsted Society will put out a public call for volunteers to help plant the trees sometime in mid- to late-April in the hopes that the overlook would be in place in time for Olmsted’s birthday on April 26.

The Riverside Historical Commission will host a 200th birthday celebration event on Tuesday, April 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Riverside Train Station, 90 Bloomingbank Road.