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East Peoria puts a lock on riverfront tradition

The fence at RiverFront park in East Peoria, where locks used to be placed on.
Mason Klemm
The fence at RiverFront park in East Peoria, where locks used to be placed on.

The city of East Peoria wants couples to know they can’t lock up their relationship at the Riverfront anymore.

Per a post to their Facebook page last week, the city wants to discontinue the tradition of placing locks on the fence around the gazebo at RiverFront Park. The locks have been a way for couples in the area to show their devotion to each other, but recent renovations to the fence means the 10-year custom will most likely come to an end.

The city recently repainted the fence as part of a major overhaul of the park, and Robert Cole, Director of Buildings and Inspections in East Peoria, says they want to ensure the improvements last for a while.

“This was a couple hundred thousand dollars in taxpayer dollars, and we would just prefer for couples to show their love and devotion to each other in some other manner than putting the locks on the public fencing,” Cole said.

It was more than just repainting, though. The project also involved sandblasting the fence and setting it back farther from the river’s edge before reinstalling it. It had been almost 30 years since the railing was originally put in, and Cole says the areas where the locks were put on caused the worst damages to the acrylic coating.

Cole says part of the process of redoing the railing involved cutting off around 1,200 locks that people tied to it over the years, which took crews weeks to complete. The city will now cut off and dispose of any new locks placed on the fence.

“Anytime you have anything that is physically locked to [the fence], it can potentially chip the paint,” Cole said. “You’re certainly not going to send all of those fence panels to sandblasting and try to attempt to even have the locks on it. It’s just not feasible.”

Reactions to this announcement were mostly negative on the Facebook post. One user said “other cities, and countries do it. It is a neat thing to see.” Another posted “East Peoria is no fun.” Others even came up with compromises, such as dedicating a small section of the fence to the locks while keeping the rest of it clean.

Despite the backlash, Cole promises residents that this measure was only enacted in order to upgrade the park and maintain its beauty.

“This wasn’t like we’re the big, bad city coming down to take a bunch of people’s love locks off, that’s not the case,” Cole said. “This was really about an improvement that needed to be done for the safety and well-being [of the park].”

Cole wants to make it known that they had no problem with the locks previously, but it came time for improvement and there will be new signs posted to discourage people from placing locks on the fence.

“We completely understand, we’re not heartless people,” Cole said. “But at the end of the day there was an improvement project that occurred there, all the fencing was removed, it was enhanced, it looks absolutely beautiful down there. We would just prefer that the locks not be reapplied so we can have that improvement look good for years and years on.”

As for starting a new tradition, Cole says the city council could come up with a controlled alternative after hearing from the public.

Mason Klemm is a reporting intern for WCBU. He is studying sports communication at Bradley University and is expected to graduate in May 2024.