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Volunteers Help Keep the Riverwalk Beautiful

As Naperville’s “Crown Jewel” and most frequently visited park, the Riverwalk is maintained with care by Naperville Park District staff, with support from volunteers. Anyone who is out walking on the Riverwalk on a Wednesday or Friday morning might see a group of volunteers pulling weeds in a flower bed or digging up invasive shrubs in a wooded area. The volunteers work alongside Park Specialist II Tiffani Picco, who manages maintenance at the Riverwalk and Centennial Beach. She is proud of what the volunteers have accomplished over the years. 
One of the annual beds at the Riverwalk

New Volunteers Welcome
With staff reductions due to impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, Tiffani counts on these volunteers and welcomes new volunteers who can join the groups who work with her during weekday hours. If working outdoors to beautify the Riverwalk interests you, visit to learn more and register as a Naperville Park District volunteer. 

Susan is one of the Deadheaders crew that works with Tiffani every other Wednesday morning from April to November, tending the flower beds on the Riverwalk. Susan joined the Deadheaders five years ago when she retired. 
Susan holding a branch of Joe-Pye Weed, which needs to be removed from the hydrangeas near the Dog and Cat sculpture (Note: Joe Pye Weed is a native plant beneficial to pollinators, but tends to spread and, like other plants, can be considered a weed if growing where it does not belong. Joe-Pye Weed thrives in other areas of the Riverwalk.)

“It’s nice to come here and feel that I’m helping with both the perennials and annuals,” said Susan. “It’s fun working with Tiffani – I enjoy that the most. She teaches us a lot. Every week there’s something new. It makes me more observant.

“I have my own yard, too which I enjoy, and in that respect, I’ve learned a lot about what to plant. For example, Tiffani planted perennial hibiscus plants at the Riverwalk last year. My mother-in-law had an annual hibiscus, but I didn’t realize that there also are perennial varieties.  I bought one last year and planted it, and it just started blooming. I was so excited. At first it was not coming up – but it turned out that it’s a late bloomer.”
Betsy weeding the perennial bed near the Dog and Cat sculpture

Betsy, Susan’s former colleague at work, joined the group a few years later, and also enjoys the experience. “It’s gratifying,” explained Betsy. “Many times people will thank us as they walk by. Tiffani is very knowledgeable and fair minded, easy to work with and careful with protocol. It’s hard to wear a mask when it’s hot, but we feel safe.”

Betsy’s favorite season on the Riverwalk is spring, “just to see everything bloom.”

Susan added, “We always end up our volunteer year in November helping to decorate the wreaths for the Riverwalk bridges and other areas. It’s kind of a treat. It’s a good way to end, right before Thanksgiving.”
Betsy and Susan

New to the group this summer is Judy, who has lived in Naperville for 24 years. “I’ve volunteered for the Park District before for one-time events like Kite Fest and Bingo. I always like to give back to the community and I love the outdoors. I’m between jobs right now, so I have a little free time, and I like to get up in the morning and accomplish something. Even if it’s a small area that we’re working on, it’s something that we can make nicer.”

Judy and Michael weed around the ivy groundcover west of the Dog and Cat sculpture

An earlier ParkTalk Blog post shows the Deadheaders planting tulip bulbs in 2017, picturing Susan with two other former volunteers, Phyllis and Valerie.

Trailmasters – a.k.a. The Invasive Task Force
The mission of the Trailmasters is to remove invasive plants that choke out the beneficial native plants that otherwise would grow in Sindt Woods at the west end of the Riverwalk. Plants on the invasive hit list include honeysuckle and buckthorn, which can grow large and are difficult to remove. “We dig it up with shovels,” explained Tiffani. “It’s hard work, but we are taking the forest back.” The volunteers also pull garlic mustard and Dame’s Rocket in the spring, and later in the season, they remove ragweed, which is an allergen, and Japanese Knot Weed. The group works every other Friday from 8:30-11:00 a.m.
Honeysuckle cleared along the west end of the Riverwalk

Jim, a Naperville resident, is in his seventh year working with the Trailmasters. He also has adopted Walnut Ridge Park, which is near his home, and has helped maintain the wooded areas in that park for 16 years. 

Jim digs out a large honeysuckle. “As long as we get the crown, the roots will die,” he said.

When asked why he continues his volunteer work year after year, he said, “The reason why is the sense of satisfaction, seeing the change in the woods.” He pointed to the area of the Riverwalk woods opposite the side where they were working, where invasive brush removal already had been done in past years and where many native plants are now flourishing. “None of this would grow because of the honeysuckle that was there. It was a barren land.” 
Tiffani points to the sunny area where natives have grown after the honeysuckle was cleared.

Tiffani explained further that the native plants grew on their own once the honeysuckle was removed. “All along, the native seeds were sitting, waiting for sunlight to allow them to grow.”  Allowing native plants to grow results in more biodiversity in the woods. “We need it (biodiversity). Everything’s connected. Diverse plants support insects, birds, animals, and other native plants and trees.”

At Sindt Woods, Park District staff plans to plant more native trees and shrubs, such as those that are sometimes donated by The Conservation Foundation. “We have every kind of habitat – high and dry to flood plain. Sun and shade, we’ve got it all. There’s a spot for lots of different trees and plants,” said Tiffani.
A restored area at the Riverwalk at Sindt Woods, where wildflowers bloom, overlooking the West Branch of the DuPage River

The Naperville Park District is grateful for all of our volunteers, including the dedicated individuals who work alongside park maintenance staff to protect the beauty of the Riverwalk and the health of the woods around it for everyone to enjoy.

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