Riverfront Park: The Next Phase

By now, most people in the Peoria area are aware of the extensive new RiverFront Park on East Peoria’s riverfront. Most folks have been able to see the park develop as they crossed the I-74 bridge or as they cross the Bob Michel bridge. The most obvious component of the park from these vantage points is the exciting blue color that was used to highlight the park’s facilities and equipment.

This new park has been an ongoing project for the City of East Peoria since it began with initial planning of the park in 1997. In 1999, a $50,000 grant was provided to place river sediment as a growing medium over the old Wallace Station “spoils.” Through the use of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT’s) Enhancement Funds, the next phase of the park was completed in 2003 and included a bike trail, a riverfront promenade (walkway), a paved performance area, overlook platforms, and irrigation and planting. Since then, the park has been used by citizens for walking, jogging, and lunchtime river watching. In addition, several community groups have begun to use the park for various festivals and events—and even more are planned.

As people become more aware of the park’s opportunities, they should realize the city is in the midst of yet another phase of development that will provide even more recreational and civic facilities for its users. Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the next phase of the park is in full swing. Unlike the IDOT funding, which provided 80 percent of the funds for the park’s initial development, the IDNR grant program provides 50 percent funding specifically for outdoor recreational components. This grant is the impetus behind the current design and development effort. With the city providing 20 percent of the initial funding and 50 percent of the funding for this next phase, this project is truly an intergovernmental, cooperative effort.

The current design effort will provide for railings and accessibility steps onto the remaining overlook platforms, providing a total of five platforms. In addition, the city will provide restrooms for the use of visitors and storage facilities for the city. Near the restrooms, a small play area will be constructed to provide recreation activities for smaller children. A major shelter will be constructed on the old “ice dams” and will provide covered space for concerts, reunions, receptions, and other events. Because of the height of the park above the Illinois River, an access route also will be provided to allow visitors to physically reach the water’s edge. Interpretive plaques also are planned along the entire riverfront promenade to help explain the long history of the Illinois River Valley. Finally, an interactive water feature will provide a strong visual element, easily seen from the interstate bridge. This water feature also will provide another recreational opportunity to actually play in the water or enjoy the water from adjacent benches with Peoria’s extensive skyline in the background.

A recent city council update indicated these new facilities currently are being designed and should be constructed in time for summer 2006. Through a truly cooperative effort involving the help and encouragement of dozens of interested citizens and local, state, and federal agencies, this new central Illinois park will continue to offer citizens and visitors more opportunities to interact with the Illinois River. In fact, this park and its connection to the new Embassy Suites and the Michel Bridge provides more than one mile of pedestrian access to the premier natural resource of the tri-county area. IBI