Canoeing the DuPage River

Known as the “Crown Jewel of Naperville”, the Riverwalk is a popular attraction in downtown.

But what would it be without the DuPage River?

NCTV17’s Kevin Machak went on a canoe ride with longtime Naperville resident and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli.

In 1831, the DuPage River provided water to power town founder Joseph Naper’s lumber mill and feed his horses.

“All of that was because of the river. It was clean water, black dirt, the timber [and] it was the proximity to Chicago, a marketplace on the great Lake Michigan. All of that in the early days made Naperville a desirable location,” said Wehrli.

The riverbeds have been here since the glaciers carved them out hundreds of years ago, providing a habitat for many plants and animals.

But Wehrli says that over the years as suburban life displaced agriculture, residents lost site of the river’s significance.

“After WWII when Naperville was becoming more developed, people didn’t really respect the river that much. Back in the ‘70s it was nothing but a dump hole. It’s like nobody ever looked at the river except for a place to dump stuff,” said Wehrli. “That has come to take a right turn as people have come to look at the river as a good thing.”

In fact, it was in 1981 in honor of Naperville’s 150th anniversary that volunteers gathered to cleanup the DuPage River and create the Riverwalk.

Today it continues to serve as the centerfold of downtown, providing opportunities for paddle boating, or a leisurely stroll.

“People that can walk up to it can appreciate the nature but still be steps away from the comforts that they know, like transportation, and food and shelter,” said Wehrli.

From recreation to collecting stormwater to draining sanitation water, Wehrli says the DuPage River is “vital” to various aspects of life so it’s important to take care of it.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s latest measure to improve the river: the removal of the McDowell Grove dam and restoring that portion of the river’s west branch.

“That habitat is supporting all of the aquatic bugs that feed off the organic materials. We’ve reconstructed the materials that you can’t see underneath with nice deep pools that this fish can overwinter in. Plus, the river is now canoeable. You don’t have to bypass a dam. Dams can be very dangerous,” said John Oldenburg, Natural Resources Director for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

The McDowell Grove restoration is the last of eight miles of improvements the forest preserve has spearheaded along the river.

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