DuPage River Controversy Sparks Naperville Park Board Discussion

DuPage River
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Complaints to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and a petition about public use of the DuPage River is prompting the Naperville Park District to consider taking action. The topic arose in discussion Thursday night during the park board’s meeting, when a former state lawmaker commented on the controversy, advocating for officials to address it.

How It Started

As previously reported, IDNR officials are grappling with complaints about people leaving trash and trespassing in and around the DuPage River, a waterway with access points in Naperville, Plainfield and Shorewood. It is designated by state law as a private body of water but has public access launches and is routinely used by many for recreation.

Plainfield resident William Sima is one of several riverfront homeowners taking issue with how the DuPage River is used and is pushing for the privately owned portions of the waterway to be deemed off limits while the IDNR reviews complaints. It remains unclear how the suggestion would be policed. When asked last week about the enforcement of river laws, IDNR spokeswoman Rachel Torbert did not address it.

Public Plea

During Thursday’s park board meeting, former state Rep. Grant Wehrli made his pitch to officials about why the DuPage River should be deemed public.

“Throughout Naperville’s history, people of all ages have enjoyed it,” Wehrli said. “I grew up mucking in the river. I canoe it frequently now as many do. In light of COVID[-19], more and more people have realized the benefits of being outside.”

Wehrli added, “It is truly the heart of what makes Naperville—Naperville.”

Not all rivers in Illinois are deemed public. The Mazon River near Morris is also deemed a private waterway.

Public Backlash

Thousands of people have signed an online petition started by Plainfield resident Ralph Osuch expressing concerns about the DuPage River and its status. Ultimately, any decision to shut down public access to the waterway would belong to the IDNR.

Wehrli urged the park board to pass a resolution in support of promoting public access to the DuPage River.

“It is something that is good for the health of the community,” he said.

Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said he is in “full support” if there’s anything the park district can do to help keep waterways free to the public.

Next Step

Several park district commissioners expressed support for putting together a resolution joining state representatives in a push to urge the IDNR to designate public access to the DuPage River. This is in reference to a July 22 letter, where state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, announced that he and several area lawmakers are seeking clarification about access to the waterway.

It says, in part, “it has come to our attention that there may be ambiguity regarding public access to the DuPage River flowing through Naperville, Plainfield, and Lisle. We the undersigned support any petition and/or clarification that, for reasonable and navigable purposes, public use of the river cannot be denied.” Other state lawmakers who signed the letter are Laura Ellman, D-Naperville; Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville; Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn; and Meg Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood.

A vote on the resolution is expected at one of the park board’s August meetings.

Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.

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