A group of Plainfield residents’ complaints to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) about people using the DuPage River has prompted a petition to circulate urging officials to save public access to the river.
The DuPage River, which touches parts of Plainfield, Shorewood and Naperville, is not currently designated a public waterway, according to IDNR spokeswoman Rachel Torbert. “As a private waterway, members of the public do not have a right to utilize the river for recreation,” Torbert said in an email. But there are public access launches for people to use canoes and kayaks and it is frequently used for recreation. The IDNR didn’t clarify whether people are allowed to be out on the river and how it’s enforced.
Plainfield resident William Sima is one of several riverfront homeowners arguing that access to parts of the river should be restricted while the IDNR looks to address their concerns about trash and trespassing. He contends that parts of the riverbed are privately owned by the landowners along the river.
But Sima said there has been misinformation spreading about he and other landowners wanting to restrict public access along the entirety of the river during the IDNR’s review of their complaints, which he said is untrue.
“We want to see regulations put in place to decrease trespassing and trash,” Sima said.
Rules of the DuPage River
A petition, started by Plainfield resident Ralph Osuch, suggests the state of Illinois is in the process of determining whether the DuPage River is public or private.
It remains unclear if the state is reviewing complaints about people using the DuPage River. In an email, Torbert did not address the complaints specifically or detail a timeline for reviewing them.
“At this time, the DuPage River is not under consideration by the Department to be made a designated public body of water,” Torbert said in an email. “Any person may petition for the body to be added as a designated public body of water by showing the body of water is or was navigable and is open or dedicated to public use.”
As of Wednesday morning, Osuch’s petition urging officials to save public access to the river has drawn more than 6,700 signatures.
It states, “our goal is to show the organizations and government bodies that are making these decisions that there are a lot of people that use the 28.3-mile DuPage River for recreational purposes and want to continue to do so for generations and generations.”
Sima originally cited issues with trash and trespassing to the IDNR after taking his concerns to officials with the village of Plainfield and Plainfield Park District where he says he found little help.
Sima said he has questioned the legality of private businesses, such as Plainfield River Tubing, operating along the DuPage River.
Kris Most, who owns Plainfield River Tubing, said that while she is still able to operate her tubing business along the river, the complaints have turned everything upside down.
“This has opened up Pandora’s box because the river laws are ambiguous,” Most said.
A response to a Freedom of Information Act request about Sima’s complaint that was obtained by Most shows the village of Plainfield does permit the tubing business to operate.
Most said she understands why many people would want to ensure that public access to the DuPage River is maintained.
“This water has been used for recreation purposes,” she said.
Potential Remedies Explored
Osuch said the IDNR needs to set better guidelines.
“They need to make sure they’re clear on their message because right now they have a mixed message out there,” Osuch said.
Sima said it would be helpful if authorities enforced the rules that are in place to deter members of the public from leaving trash and trespassing.
Osuch described the situation as a “huge legal mess,” saying that he hopes public access is maintained.
“I don’t know how this is going to be resolved,” he said.
Osuch has a theory about how the issues can be resolved, saying that areas along the DuPage River could use more signage and trash cans.
“I think there’s room for improvement,” he said.
Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.
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