History of the Batavia Riverwalk

2013-01-06 19.45.45A gathering of 150 Batavia leaders orchestrated by the Batavia Chamber of Commerce was held in February 1991. The goal was to bring together the city’s leaders to discuss ways to improve Batavia through volunteerism.  The idea of building a walk around the river’s edge had been discussed for years finally got traction at the retreat. The newly- formed Batavia Task Force included the Batavia Riverwalk and took off when local Baptist minister, Charlie Gillenwater stepped up to lead the effort. The Riverwalk Committee formed and created renderings of the future park, then started fund raising and volunteer recruitment to move the idea to reality.  The Batavia Riverwalk project was unique.  In a time of local government austerity and tax caps, Riverwalk volunteers raised money and physically built a park that is a tribute to the Batavia community. Working in cooperation with the Batavia Park District, the project utilized thousands of volunteers of all ages and leveraged the labor of five Eagle Scout projects. The new park along Batavia’s northern portion of the Fox River was built on the east bank of the Depot Pond on land that city fathers acquired a century earlier.

Native plantings and wild flowers as well as other landscaping work was spearheaded by the diligent group of volunteers called the Batavia Plain Dirt Gardeners.  They worked with other volunteers to adopt plots to rid them of invader species and to plant and maintain natives.  Additionally, the gardeners were involved in numerous wildflower rescues from Fox Valley developer sites, replanting rare Illinois wildflowers at the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk project gradually took shape over the next seven years during Saturday volunteer work days, celebrating a community ribbon-cutting in 1998. 2013-01-06 21.00.14

From 1991-1998, the Riverwalk raised over $1.2 million plus over $1 million in in-kind gifts.  The Riverwalk early years from 1991-1993 included the following projects:

  • Laying over 100,000 square feet of brick walkway;
  • Installing an 80’ clear span bridge installed;
  • Excavating an historic canoe cut and reopening as a water feature;
  • Setting of a 40’ bridge;
  • Building a 252 square foot observation deck;
  • Establishing the native Illinois wild flowers sanctuary.

During 1994-1995, 864 lineal feet of elevated boardwalk over the wetlands area and a 1,000 square foot pavilion were built, followed by construction of three scenic overlooks and a playground in 1996. In the final years the projects were finished:

  • Construction of the Peg Bond Center;
  • Construction of the Bob Becker Memorial Christmas Tree Plaza;
  • Completion of the entry court and Furnas Fountain;
  • Stabilization of the retaining wall and final landscaping.

In May of 1993 the Riverwalk was awarded the DuKane Award for Problem-Solving Excellence and in June 1993 the Lt. Governor of Illinois awarded the Batavia Riverwalk the Hometown Award for Excellence in Volunteerism. Since its’ dedication in October 1998, the Riverwalk has become the centerpiece of Batavia’s downtown, hosting a wide variety of events, concerts and a nature walk as well that showcases our Fox River wetlands ecosystem. After a much-deserved rest, the Riverwalk Committee dissolved and re-emerged as the Friends of the Riverwalk in 1999.  The Friends were formed to keep volunteers interested in the Riverwalk and to assist the Park District with planning for its’ future.  The Friends group raised funds that helped seed the current Batavia Park District Riverwalk Rhapsody music series and grew the Riverwalk memorial program. Batavia Parks Foundation LogoIn 2003 the Batavia Parks Foundation was formed by Park Board president Britta McKenna and Parks Foundation board president Dan Brace. The Friends committee appointed two representatives of the Riverwalk to the new Foundation. A subcommittee, called the Riverwalk Art Review Commission, began to act as a clearinghouse for art-related projects proposed for the Riverwalk in 2004. Once the Foundation was up and running, the Friends of the Riverwalk voted to disband and transferred all remaining funds to the Parks Foundation earmarked for future Riverwalk projects. Through the years the Batavia Plain Dirt Gardeners have continued to care for and preserve the natural areas of the Riverwalk. Their dedicated volunteer corps are a great asset to the Riverwalk, Park District and Batavia community through their group efforts and ongoing education and interpretation.Foundation Board at WCF

The Batavia Parks Foundation has successfully raised funds for the Batavia Riverwalk, SpaceNet, Batavia’s Bark Park, West Main Disc Golf Course and established a Park District Liesureship program since its inception.

Additionally, the Parks Foundation was responsible for the Peg Bond Center Performing Arts Pavilion during the 2009-2010 seasons.  This Fox River bandshell is a wonderful addition to the Peg Bond Center and further solidifies the Riverwalk as Batavia’s central gathering place for the community. The Performing Arts Pavilion was awarded the 2010 Batavia Chamber of Commerce Ole Award for new construction for their efforts.  IMG_0062

2013 marks yet another chapter in the Parks Foundation history, reconstruction of the boardwalk.

The eighteen-year-old wooden structure spans the wetlands area of the Riverwalk, allowing for nature walkers to enjoy the ecosystem and vistas of the Fox River. The Pavilion is attached to the northeast end of the boardwalk and two overlooks afford breathtaking views of the river.  The renovation of the boardwalk includes total demolition of the horizontal planks and upright railings.  The understructure foundation has been deemed to be sound so reconstruction is focused on the walkway and railing systems only.  The Parks Foundation hired Upland Design to render the new boardwalk and assist with the pre-construction preparations. A wood composite product called Trex has been selected to replace the natural wood.  The color palate includes natural wood colors to complement the wetlands area and the connecting Pavilion.  The Trex material is much more durable and has a guaranteed life of twenty-five years.  The upright railing system is being improved to be more aesthetically pleasing and to allow for greater visibility of the Fox River scenery. A project budget of $175,000 has been established; the “Purchase a Plank” community fund raising campaign kicks off in 2013 with a goal of raising $25-40,000.

In true Batavia spirit, volunteers are being called to assist with the boardwalk project. A subcommittee of the Parks Foundation began planning in August 2012 and continues to plan for fund raising, public relations and volunteer labor management. Contingent on the Fox River water level, the project commences on June 1, 2013. The same “Group of the Week” model developed during construction of the Riverwalk is being utilized for the boardwalk renovation. A qualified construction manager is scheduled to be onsite each Saturday workday.  The project is scheduled to commence spring of 2013 and finish five months later, depending on weather, water levels and volunteer support. To volunteer your group, contact smitchell82@comcast.net.

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