On Labor Day 2021, the City of Naperville will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Naperville Riverwalk. This beautiful walkway along the West Branch of the DuPage River is a true gem in our community, and it should serve as a splendid example of what Naperville residents can accomplish when ordinary residents come together to accomplish extraordinary things. Our Riverwalk is 1.75 miles of pure beauty, and it is a community landmark that attracts visitors from well beyond the city limits.
Many people don’t know this, but the creation of the Naperville Riverwalk was not a city government initiative. It was an idea put in motion by Mayor Chet Rybicki, Jim Moser, local residents and business owners who felt the area lining the river could be an important community asset and focal point of the city. Inspired by the endless possibilities to improve the area and give back to their community, Naperville volunteers, including my father, Don Wehrli, went to work on a project to beautify the area.
I have vivid memories during the summer of 1981 when I was 12 years old being awakened on Saturday mornings so I could join my dad to work on the project. We donned our yardwork clothes and gathered at the project site to clear brush, shovel sand and lay the bricks that created the initial walkway along the river. Every weekend we joined other community volunteers to work on this immense community improvement project, and when it was complete, we all felt an undeniable sense of pride and community spirit.
The Naperville Riverwalk was dedicated on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 1981, as the City of Naperville celebrated its 150th birthday. I remember that day clearly, and remember the happiness that radiated from all who had a hand in turning the idea for a Riverwalk into a reality.
Today the Naperville Riverwalk features not just a path, but bridges, fountains, sculptures and art, meeting space and passive recreational areas. It borders Centennial Beach, parks, pavilions, restaurants, and other amenities.
Many refer to our Riverwalk as the “Crown Jewel of Naperville,” and they’re right. As we all get caught up in the rigors of our everyday lives, it is nice to know we have a place to go to unwind, decompress, and enjoy a peaceful stroll. It’s wonderful to have a place that belongs to all of us, where we can appreciate nature, and reflect on simpler times and a commitment to community that led a group of volunteers to create something really special that would be enjoyed for generations to come.