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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Commission, Foundation, quite contrary, how does the Naperville Riverwalk grow?


One Participant’s View

by Stephanie Penick, PN Publisher

In a few months, the Naperville Riverwalk will mark 37 years since the first phase was dedicated on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 1981.Thanks to this generous community, the winding brick path in the heart of downtown has grown step-by-step, brick-by-brick, to become a much-celebrated natural backdrop for family reunions, weddings, fundraising walks, concerts and sledding at Rotary Hill, art fairs, story times, playdates and memorable photos that capture even more.

Mostly, however, folks say they enjoy quiet walks or jogs for peaceful reflection and conversation on the serpentine brick path as it meanders along the DuPage River from the Jefferson Street Bridge to Hillside Road. Others reminisce about stops in Fredenhagen Park to relax on park benches while watching and listening to the calm of Exchange Club Memories Fountain.

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Fact is, the story of the sesquicentennial gift when Mayor Chet Rybicki and businessman Jim Moser led the charge to showcase Naperville’s can-do spirit, as told by my cousin in the late 1980s at family reunions, is one of the reasons our family was attracted to move here in 1993.

A stone marker along the original section from Main to Webster (now revitalized) celebrates the dedication and the major donors of the “lasting commemorative” Riverwalk dedicated on Sept. 7, 1981. Now encompassing growth with winding paths from Hillside to Jefferson, the Riverwalk continues to recognize the city’s first 150 years as it moves forward for “generations to come.”

Volunteers keep it up

A couple years after our arrival, I was delighted when longtime Riverwalk (RW) Commission devotees Frank Allston and Cliff Preston recognized the promotion of Trolley Meister Don Wehrli’s new trolley business in 1995 (a pet project presented to me by then-Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce President Jack Romaine). Allston invited me to join the PR committee to help with a new fundraising campaign for the extension of the Riverwalk from Washington Street to Hillside Road.

That privately-funded initiative known as Riverwalk 2000 led by Ed Channell and Glen Ekey established the need to create a nonprofit foundation for the Riverwalk. Attorney Kevin Gallaher who served on the committee applied for tax-exempt status which set up the RW Foundation in 1997.

Several years later the RW Foundation again was ready to collect private donations when Channell, at the request of Rita Harvard, and John Schmitt led the campaign to fund the development of Fredenhagen Park. Together, those two campaigns, both designed with direction from the RW Commission in advance of fundraising, collected more than $1 million to enhance the public/private partnership with the City.

Then when the world’s economy took a dive during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, an active decade of raising private funds for the RW Foundation went into a quiet stage when other nonprofits were faced with bigger needs.

As maintenance needs were identified, restoration projects were introduced for the Millennium Wall at the Riverwalk Amphitheater as well as the revitalization of the stretch between Main and Jackson streets where Exchange Club Veterans Plaza later was created to augment the tribute to fallen soldiers by Evening Kiwanis.

35 Years celebrated with a Duck Race & fond memories

To celebrate the city’s natural treasure when the Riverwalk turned 35 in 2016, the RW Foundation, on which I serve, currently as president, planned to bring back a Duck Race. We also welcomed the community to submit 35-word memories and thoughtful reflections about any Riverwalk experience.

“On New Year’s Day 1993, I visited Naperville and the Riverwalk with my cousin, Candyce Krumwiede, for the first time. While she shared the city’s sesquicentennial story, downtown’s grand illumination began to glisten. That instant, I caught the spirit of Naperville,” I wrote.

Now two years later, the 3rd Annual Riverwalk Duck Race is set for 10AM Wed., Aug. 15. With that, the RW Foundation has been in the news, creating some confusion regarding its mission and relationship with the RW Commission.

In 2017, the RW Commission Chairman Geoff Roehll presented a plan for a pedestrian path from the Webster Street Covered Bridge to Water Street. To create a safer and handicapped accessible way to enter the Riverwalk, Naperville Township gave a portion of its parking lot to the project that was funded with private donations collected by the RW Foundation. The RW Foundation also funded the American flag and pole, now centered near the bridge.

How does the RW Foundation work with the RW Commission?

The RW Foundation only takes its lead to fund projects from the RW Commission in a public/private partnership. Design-and-build projects for the Riverwalk are imagined, planned and approved by the RW Commission and City Council prior to the City’s financial commitment or private donor solicitation via the RW Foundation.

Since 1997, more than $1 million has been raised from private donors without binding agreements, all run through the RW Foundation to reimburse the City for construction of the Riverwalk Extension and Fredenhagen Park. The Exchange Club did have an agreement that stated its commitment to sell bricks and granite stones ($250,000 worth) for the naming rights to the Exchange Club Memories Fountain. The service club also received some complimentary bricks.

Riverwalk Administrator Jan Erickson recently received an inquiry from NCTV17 regarding the RW Foundation. Erickson, who also serves as a staff person for the City of Naperville, attends RW Foundation meetings as a liaison for the RW Commission. She provided an excellent description of how our all-volunteer organization has worked well to serve the Commission and the City for 20 years.

“The RW Commission is a 12-member working, advisory board,” Erickson explained. “Its members are appointed by the Mayor. The RW Commission’s duties are to promote, encourage and guide the development and use of the Riverwalk. This means that any new project/development on the Riverwalk is vetted through the RW Commission before going to the Park Board and City Council for approval. The RW Commission (and I) then acts as the project managers for each new approved project. 

“Separate from the City, the Park District manages the events that take place on the Riverwalk e.g., triathlons, fundraising walks and carillon concerts.

“Also separate from the City, the RW Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, charitable organization whose mission is to promote, educate and enhance the Riverwalk while being a conduit for financial gift-giving to the Riverwalk. These funds help supplement the annual financial commitments of the City of Naperville and Naperville Park District. 

“In the past, the RW Foundation has held community events to help raise awareness of projects and new developments on the Riverwalk. On Wednesday, August 15, at 10AM, the RW Foundation will hold its 3rd Annual Duck Race,” she concluded.

A gateway to downtown Naperville and North Central College, Fredenhagen Park with the Exchange Club Memories Fountain sits on the former site of a Cock Robin Ice Cream shop and the Naperville Creamery.

For the public record

The president of the RW Foundation sits on the RW Commission as a liaison between the two all-volunteer boards.

Currently, Geoffrey Roehll is Chairman of the RW Commission. As mentioned, I currently serve as liaison for the RW Foundation.

The RW Foundation only grants funds or “holds” designated private funds for projects approved by the RW Commission.

Mindful of some confusion about the RW Foundation’s mission to promote, educate and enhance while serving as a conduit for financial gifts that augment the annual commitments of the City and the Naperville Park District, I read my report at the May meeting so I wouldn’t forget any of it. Afterward, RW Administrator Jan Erickson requested a copy.

Here goes:

“The RW Foundation has signed an agreement with the Jaycees and the City of Naperville to hold funds for the Jaycees Park. This agreement is the first of its kind for the Foundation.

“The Foundation now has a designated fund for the Jaycees Park and the Jaycees have met their obligation with its first two payments.

“The RW Foundation now has a website. While we have not ‘officially’ launched it, it’s up and running. Its primary focus is simply to educate about the history of the Riverwalk and the mission of the Foundation to educate, enhance and serve as a conduit for funds that will keep the Riverwalk attractive.

“The website is equipped to accept donations with guidelines for brick orders for Fredenhagen Park and the extension from Washington to Hillside. www.napervilleriverwalkfoundation.org.

“The RW Foundation will host its third annual Duck Race the week before school begins again. The race is slated for 10AM Wed., Aug. 15. It’s quick! We look forward to working again with Chuck Papanos and his team. Another new website will accept duck sponsors. I might add that Dick Galitz is really paying attention. He is among the early duck sponsors! Busey Bank is back for the third year as our presenting sponsor. Other sponsors will be welcome. www.napervilleriverwalkduckrace.com.

“Finally, I take my seat as a RW Commissioner to heart. It’s an honor to be here representing the Foundation and the community that provides input to me about our City’s natural treasure.

“I often tell folks serving the RW Commission can seem like a birthday party where we’re opening gifts that will make a difference in the heart of downtown Naperville.

“The RW Foundation met Mon., May 7, with lots of questions about going forward. One is an exit strategy for the 10-year agreement regarding Jaycees Park. The Foundation is an engaging group that also brings historical insight to the table as we address some of the procedural changes that have presented themselves this year.

“Thanks again for this opportunity to serve my community.” And I signed off.

Find this “What We Need” stone marker just west of the foot bridge along the Riverwalk on the south side of the DuPage River.

What’s happening along the Riverwalk?

It’s true. Folks what to know. More than a few regular Riverwalkers have stopped me, wondering what’s planned for the Riverwalk, mostly with questions about Moser Tower and the recently proposed Harmony Park at Rotary Hill.

While I urge folks to put their thoughts in writing in order to accurately share their comments, I’ve heard from less than a few.

I understand that. Many individuals simply want to unload their interests with the expectation that they’ll be heard by somebody. Yet, I’m reluctant to voice other people’s comments that could be considered hearsay when I haven’t taken notes.

I also understand that folks who serve a board or commission want an action plan. They want to see results during their tenure.

But in the scheme that follows the question I raised in my commentary on Page 2, “Will it fulfill an unmet need? And will it make a difference?”, I’m content for the Riverwalk to be among the many reasons to spend the day in downtown Naperville.

In my opinion, other than responsible operations, regular care and dedicated maintenance (O&M), little is needed to make the beautiful Naperville Riverwalk more attractive.

Every season, especially springtime, Veterans Plaza is a beautiful and peaceful place to pause and reflect about the sacrifices given for this great nation.

Riverwalk serves ‘What we need’

And wouldn’t you know? On May 18, Chicago Tribune ran a column by Mary Schmich, topped with the headline (online headline is different from the printed page) “Riverwalk merits serenity, not schlock.”

My phone rang. And rang again. “Did you read the story about the Riverwalk in the Tribune?” several folks asked. “She sounds like you,” one friend added.

Schmich writes about three years of expansion along the Chicago Riverwalk with many of the same concerns folks express here about the Naperville Riverwalk.

Both the Naperville RW Commission and RW Foundation have discussed “trinkets” and the need for open space to remain open. Not everyone agrees. Further, requests to create “attractions” on Riverwalk from outside organizations have become more frequent. In my opinion, the new ideas have begun to distract from planned initiatives already with design renderings, in place and on hold, waiting for funding approvals.

(Future plans list development of the area along the DuPage River below the Landforms Sculpture, just west of the Eagle Street Bridge, for better handicapped accessibility; the property along the east side of Washington Street from Hillside to Martin Avenue could expand the Riverwalk toward Edward; and the property next to Burger King owned by North Central College is another partnership proposed with the Riverwalk.)

Folks in Chicago also are concerned about decibels, safety and having “a refuge from the hubbub” of city life.
Schmich quotes Michelle Woods, City Project Manager for the Chicago Riverwalk. “This is a gem. It’s our urban canyon and it’s a natural resource.”

Back when the Naperville Riverwalk first got going, architect Chuck George named it Naperville’s “crown jewel,” also in a Chicago Tribune story.

To my knowledge, until now Naperville’s crown jewel and the word “schlock” have not been written in the same sentence.

Here’s to open space along our city’s natural treasure. Thanks for reading.

Located on Jackson at Webster along the Riverwalk, the Dandelion Fountain is the centerpiece in a popular gathering place. The idea came from Charles Vincent “Chuck” George, the architect who helped create the original design for our city’s natural treasure to commemorate the City’s sesquicentennial in 1981.

Come spend the day, the weekend or a week

In collaboration with the City of Naperville, the Naperville Park District and private citizens via contributions to the RW Foundation, the function of the RW Commission is to promote, encourage and guide the development and use of the Riverwalk, a beautiful, linear park located in downtown Naperville along the DuPage River.

The Riverwalk is just steps from shopping and dining, Nichols Library, North Central College, Naper Settlement and the Hotel Indigo Naperville Riverwalk along Water Street.

Come spend the day, the weekend or a week. Visit Naperville!

Note! Naperville is home to 18 hotels and more than 260 restaurants, including Hotel Arista with the new Che Figata at CityGate Centre.

RELATED PN POSTS with PHOTOS / Search “Riverwalk.”


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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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