The Riverside Des Plaines River Corridor Important Bird Area is a 3.92 km contiguous path along Des Plaines River in Riverside, IL, from the Riverside Swim Club on Bloomingbank Road to Miller Road/Ogden Avenue. It is across the river from and surrounded by the existing 107 hectare Salt Creek Woods Nature Preserve - Bob Mann Woods IBA.
In 1970, the Village of Riverside was designated a National Historic Landmark Architectural District by the National Park Service based on its natural landscape and design by Frederick Law Olmsted. Riverside is also noted as one of the first suburban planned developments in America, dating to 1869. During the design and planning process, Olmsted recognized and was inspired by the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The design of the roadways and parks system are curvilinear and created to mimic the natural contour of the s-curve of the Des Plaines River, which bisects Riverside. Based on Olmsted’s vision and design, Riverside is arguably the first conservation designed community in America with over 50% green areas including the river’s natural landscape interconnected with parkways and open “commons” of its urban forest, a walkable downtown, and train station connecting the village to Chicago’s metro center.
Consistent with Olmsted’s design preferences, the tree and shrub collections have a strong emphasis on native plantings found along the Des Plaines River. The corporate limits of Riverside are approximately 517 hectares, consisting of both public lands and private property. Public lands occupy approximately forty-four percent (44%) of the total community's land. The living collections consist of 8,400 woody plants on public right-of-way. Of the 107 woody plant species documented in Riverside, about 70% are canopy, 25% understory, and the balance are shrubs. These include bur oak, swamp white oak, red oak, hickory and other hardwoods, which are important to migratory birds.
The Village of Riverside is committed to operating and maintaining these public lands to preserve the planning concepts upon which the general character of the village and the historic landmark designation are based. Portions of the nominated IBA, such as the Scout Cabin and the Indian Gardens ballparks and tennis courts, are public parks and recreation areas under the jurisdiction, operation, maintenance, and control of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board.
Section 1 (Riverside Swim Club to the Scout Cabin): The area is narrow and contains a mix of flowering shrub and tree species such as honeysuckle, hackberry, linden, elm and ash. There are pre-settlement bur, black, and white oaks in the turf areas. Sub-canopy trees such as ironwood, blue beech, and hawthorn are present as well as gray dogwood and eastern wahoo shrub species.
Section 2 (Scout Cabin to the Barrypoint Bridge): The forested portion is the largest tract of natural area in Riverside, offering habitat for wildlife. Canopy species such as elm, ash, hackberry, bur oak, red oak, swamp white oak, hickory and linden are present with a hawthorn sub-canopy. Bladdernut shrubs have been observed along with several sub-canopy invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle. From an ecological perspective, this area was protected from fire by the Des Plaines River and receives periodic over-the-bank flooding. Due to the emerald ash borer infestation and Dutch elm disease, a significant amount of canopy has been lost along the path behind Indian Gardens, creating opportunity for the reintroduction of natural regeneration due to gaps created in the canopy. Some ash and elm have been allowed to remain to provide wildlife habitat while others have been removed for public safety. This area contains high quality woodland perennials such as bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, wild ginger, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and Solomon’s seal. Sedge meadows are present in this section, with a wetland sedge meadow directly north and east of the Scout Cabin and just south of the tennis courts.
Section 3 (Barrypoint Bridge to the Riverside Public Library): Basswood, hackberry, ash, and elm are all present with ironwood, blue beech, and Ohio buckeye in the sub-canopy layer. Few shrubs are present in this section. An upland forest frames Swan Pond, creating a room-like effect for the floodplain area. Remnant pre-settlement oak trees border the turf, highlighting the potential transition from upland forest to oak savanna and eventual prairie prior to development.
Section 4 (Riverside Public Library to Ogden Avenue): The pre-settlement vegetation present on site would suggest this area is remnant oak-hickory savanna. Both shagbark hickory and bur oak are the dominant canopy species. Linden, hackberry, and elm have also colonized the site in the absence of fire. Sub-canopy species such as ironwood and grey dogwood have also been observed. The steep slope supports both wet conditions near the riverbank and dry conditions at the top of turf grass areas, allowing for a wide range of plant species to colonize the site. The entire Village of Riverside was certified as an arboretum by ArbNet in July 2015. Qualifications include having at least 100 species of trees in the village’s public collection, a paid forester, educational programming related to the collection, public events in the village’s forested areas, and a collections policy. Riverside is the second municipality in Illinois to be named an arboretum.
The Riverside Des Plaines River Corridor is part of the inland migratory pathway along the Des Plaines River corridor, including the confluence of the Salt Creek, making it an important feeding area and shelter for migratory birds. Beyond being a critical spring and fall stopover site, the IBA is significant for both resident and migratory birds, with nesting Wood Ducks, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Chickadees and Nuthatches and woodpeckers, as well as Baltimore Orioles, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Indigo Buntings, five species of woodpeckers including Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers, and a diversity of Warblers.
The Village of Riverside owns the land along the east side of the Des Plaines River and it is managed by the Riverside Department of Pubic Works.