As the DuPage River flows by the Greenway on a sunny November Day, I soak in the quiet scene and feel a sense of peace. Early spring snow melt, and periods of heavy summer rain made the river turbulent. Now, however, reflections in the water tremble only slightly, reminding me of an impressionist painting. I think about the role this little river plays in our lives and of its history.
According to tradition, in the 1700’s, a French trader named Du Page settled on the river, which had been formed 13,000 years earlier by glaciers from the last ice age. The trader gave the river his name. At that time, the Pottawatomi still inhabited this region, raising vegetables, hunting game, trapping muskrat and beaver, and fishing both branches of the river.
The Greenway follows the East Branch of the DuPage River, not the DuPage River itself. The East and West Branches merge at the west end of Bolingbrook, at the border with Naperville. The confluence is south of Knoch Knolls Park and just a little east and south of River Crest Estates Park. Both of these parks, full of hiking trails, are operated by the Naperville Park District.
The watersheds formed by the two branches of the DuPage River, according to http://www.dupagerivers.org/, drain parts of three counties, a small portion of Cook County and larger portions of DuPage and Will Counties. The West Branch, which is 34 miles long, meanders down from Schaumburg, draining 128 square miles. The shorter East Branch, only 25 miles long, begins in.
Watching the ripples of the East Branch, I try to imagine what it was like for Native Americans canoeing from what is now Bolingbrook to the Mississippi River. These rivers provided an easy transportation route through Illinois for the Native Americans. They would have seen some beautiful scenery along the way, as the DuPage blended its waters with the Kankakee and Des Plaines and later with the Illinois River, before pouring into the Mississippi.
Pottawatomi children would have grown up hearing meadowlarks call to each other across the prairie grass and red-winged blackbirds click warnings in the marshes each summer. They would have seen hawks dive down to catch rabbits, squirrels or other small animals; turtles sunning themselves on rocks or logs in the water; elk or bison on the shore. At daybreak and dusk, deer would have come out of hiding, as they still do today.
As I stand on the Greenway this November, the only animals I see are squirrels. I know there are ducks and geese nearby. Among the trees up the hill, deer are resting in the underbrush, out of sight.
Since the days Pottawatomi children roamed the area and canoed the rivers, rechanneling and damning have changed the waterways. A canoe trip from Bolingbrook to the Big Muddy is no longer possible. Still, some of the water of the Du Page River makes its way into the Des Plaines River, which feeds into the Illinois River, a major tributary to the Mississippi, so I let my imagination take me all the way down-stream to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Today there is much more pollution in both branches of the DuPage River, as well as the rivers into which their waters flow, than there was when the Pottawatomi lived in this area. One of the main sources of this pollution is stormwater runoff, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
You and I can help prevent pollution from runoff. The IEPA provides several suggestions, including the following: (1) Don’t leave pet feces on the ground; unbagged it can introduce pathogens into the waterways. (2) Eliminate or minimize use of fertilizers and pesticides. (3) Don’t wash your car in your driveway; do it on the grass or, better yet, take it to a carwash. (4) Dispose of hazardous wastes (including prescription medicines, pesticides and paint, in a proper manner (See http://www.naperville.il.us/dynamic_content.aspx?id=148). Find additional suggestions from the IEPA at http://www.dupagerivers.org/pollution.html.
We can all help protect the river and preserve it for our own enjoyment and the enjoyment of future generations of children.
© Wilda Morris