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The Riverwalk Crew: Digging in to learn, grow and beautify

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Like many Naperville residents, Phyllis loves the Riverwalk and enjoys walking her dog there year-round. As a volunteer, she has developed a deeper appreciation of all that goes into design and care of the beautiful flower beds that make the Riverwalk so appealing.

Phyllis (middle) with fellow volunteers Susan (left) and Valerie (right)

Several years ago, after retiring from Alcatel-Lucent , Phyllis was looking online for volunteer opportunities in the community when she noticed the Naperville Park District’s call for volunteers to assist at the Riverwalk. She interviewed with Tiffani, Park Specialist for the Riverwalk, and was one of the first to join the new group, informally known as the Riverwalk Dead Headers.The volunteer crew works alongside Tiffani every other Wednesday morning between March and mid-November, dead-heading flowers, weeding, mulching, planting or assisting with other tasks as needed.

Volunteers Phyllis (left) and Valerie (right) assist Park District staff member, Efren

“I always look forward to Wednesdays,” said Phyllis. “Tiffani runs our projects like a graduate seminar. She explains everything as we go, for example, defining a weed as anything that grows where you don’t want it. She knows so much; I haven’t yet heard a question that she can’t answer. She plans our activities so that we will learn something and enjoy the work.”

The Dead Headers assisted Tiffani and Park Specialist Efren as they planted tulip bulbs in front of the Park District Administration building. Four varieties will bloom next spring on the Riverwalk, featuring shades of purple and apricot, accented with red-tipped yellow Sun Catchers.
Tulip bulbs ready to be planted

This short video clip shows the drilling tool in action. This year, the Park District crew planted 8,500 bulbs at the Riverwalk and at Park District facilities in just two days.

Susan finishes raking the bed where the tulips have been planted.

The final project for the year will be to assemble holiday wreaths for the Riverwalk.

Besides enjoying the outdoor exercise, camaraderie, and the beauty of the Riverwalk, Phyllis appreciates the opportunity that volunteering gives her to learn more about gardening. “I’ve learned more about gardening at home, for example, how to design a planter. You want to include a thriller (a tall plant in the center), a filler and a spiller.”

Planter outside the Administration Building

Phyllis also has learned more about the Park District.  “I have learned how vast the Riverwalk and the Park District are.  Tiffani has a big staff in the summer and she gets out there with everyone, working alongside them. She plans the floral displays so that they all blend in with the perennials on the Riverwalk.”

Annuals blend with perennials in the Riverwalk floral displays

Environmental education also is part of her experience as a volunteer. “The biggest thing is planting and taking care of native plants like the purple coneflower.  We never dead head those so that the birds can eat the seeds.” She also appreciates the way Tiffani points out some of nature’s hidden treasures, such as a nest of owlets in Sindt Woods.
Purple coneflower

While the Dead Header group is a unique and limited volunteer crew, the Park District offers many other opportunities to volunteer for short term projects and special events.  Residents also are invited to consider adopting a park, trail or field. To learn more about volunteering and the Adopt-A-Park program, visit the District’s volunteer web page or contact Volunteer Manager Lynnette Hoole at

Thank you to Phyllis, Susan and Valerie for your dedication and enthusiasm to help maintain one of our community treasures.

Tiffani, Susan, Phyllis, Valerie and Efren

It’s not too late to plant your spring bulbs!  For a demonstration and advice from Tiffani, check our 2016 video here.

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