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Naperville Park District, local legislators want DuPage River declared a public waterway

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/30/2021 Suzanne Baker, Naperville Sun, Ill.

Jul. 29—Naperville Park District will join area legislators in urging a state agency to make it clear the 28-mile DuPage River should be open to the public for recreational activities.

The river's status came into question recently when Plainfield residents complained to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about trash and trespassing along private property adjacent to the river by customers of Plainfield River Tubing.

Those who use the river for recreation are concerned a state review could result in part or all of the waterway being shut down to public use, potentially impacting businesses like the Plainfield tubing company and Naperville Kayak.

An online petition with more 10,000 signatures is pushing the state to keep the river open for recreation.

The IDNR maintains a list of public bodies of water deemed navigable and opened to public use. In the Chicago area, the Fox, Chicago, Kankakee, Illinois and Des Plaines rivers have that designation.

Although the DuPage River is designated by the state as private, multiple governmental bodies have constructed access points along the waterway for the public to launch non-motorized watercraft, such as kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and inflatable rafts and tubes.

On Aug. 12, the Naperville Park Board is expected to vote on a resolution calling for public access to the DuPage River to be maintained.

Last week a group of five state legislators ― Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville; Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn; Sen. Laura Ellman, D-Naperville; and Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood ― sent a joint letter to IDNR expressing support for continued public access to the DuPage River.

"For decades the public has enjoyed access to this stretch of the DuPage River. There are multiple public access ramps that have been built for such use," the legislators said in the letter.

"The DuPage River has served as the foundation for many activities and happy memories of residents and families who live in the region and use the river recreationally," they said.

No one at the IDNR could be reached for comment.

The Naperville Park District maintains the river is public because the state has provided funding to create and improve public access to the DuPage River for recreational activities, such as fishing, kayaking and canoeing.

Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said $200,000 was spent putting in canoe launches at Knoch Knolls Park, Dorothea Weigand Riverfront Park and Pioneer Park.

Derke Price, general counsel for the district, told the Park Board at its meeting last week that there's no reason for IDNR not to include the DuPage River on its list of public bodies of water.

Price said the U.S. government and Illinois Environmental Protection determined the DuPage was a navigable river because the Naperville Park District was forced to clean up Sportsman's Park after a 1998 federal lawsuit charging lead shot from the park had polluted the water in the marsh and two ponds that are tributaries of the DuPage River.

More than $5 million was spent on renovations to clean up contaminants and improve the facility.

McGury said he understands property owners in Plainfield are angry with people are coming onto their property, urinating and leaving trash.

"It's horrible," he said. "But I don't know that I'd want to shut down the river."

Instead, he suggests the property owners work with local police, the park district or another group as well as with the company that organized tubing float trips to find ways to prevent those situations from happening.

"It's the old saying, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," McGury said.

Not only is the park district requesting a clear position from the agency, the resolution calls on the IDNR not to limit "normal and lawful recreational activities on the DuPage River."

According to the state agency, anyone can petition to add a body of water to the public list when it can be shown the water is or was navigable and is open or dedicated to public use.

Besides Naperville Park District, the park districts in Winfield and Plainfield and forest preserve districts in DuPage and Will counties have developed more than a dozen watercraft launches along the DuPage River and its west branch to give the public easy access for recreational activities.

Spokeswoman Cindy Cain said the Will County Forest Preserve District is aware of the confusion and is gathering information and talking with other governmental bodies before determining how to proceed.

The district only can control sections of the river adjacent to forest preserve land, she said.

subaker@tribpub.com

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