Improving & Protecting the Chicago River System
March 4, 2019
Written by Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director, Friends of the Chicago River
This year Friends of the Chicago River is celebrating our 40th anniversary and to be quite honest we have plenty to celebrate. Since Robert Cassidy wrote “Our Friendless River” in 1979, huge progress has been made.
In the 1970s audiences laughed out loud when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley proposed that businessmen would be fishing in the Main Stem at lunch, yet today it’s quite common and the river is home to over 70 species of fish, up from seven a few decades ago. Not only do fish fill the water but fleets of tour boats and water taxis compete with kayaks and pleasure cruisers. Natural areas are being restoredand are alive with all kinds of wildlife ranging from beavers and muskrats to turtles, herons, and mink from Lake County southwest all the way down to Palos and on Chicago’s southeast side. Dam removal has become a priority and new water quality standards are being implemented to protect recreators and wildlife. Ambient water quality is dramatically improved. All this was almost unimaginable four decades ago.
Friends is excited and proud of our prominent role in bringing the river to life and transforming it into a community treasure, but we didn’t do it alone and change didn’t come easy. It took imagination, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication and the help of lots of people starting with our founders and continuing through to today with members, partners, and volunteers who provide financial support and write letters, carry canoes, restore riverbanks, serve on boards and committees, pick up garbage—and in some cases all of the above.
“Yesterday there was a gang of kids loitering on the river bank, tossing bricks and being kids, oh well” he wrote. “A moment later the doorbell rang. It was one of the loitering kids asking if we had some garbage bags. They were going to clean up the bank.”
Those kids and their trash bags are emblematic of how far the river has come, how willing people are to help improve and protect it, and prove the fact that our river isn’t friendless anymore.