Chicago River Day and the My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge

Note from the staff: Each year on Chicago River Day thousands of concerned citizens help rid the river of the unclean and unsafe litter fouling its banks. By making an area litter free, we create a cleaner environment and deter future littering, but will take a team effort to get there.

May 9 we celebrated the 28th annual Chicago River Day and kicked off our exciting new My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge. Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-5th) and Friends' Executive Director Margaret Frisbie discussed the importance of a Litter Free Chicago River and introduced the My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge, where all summer long volunteers will work together, but safely apart, to make the river and our communities litter free. Participants in the May 9 virtual kick off were entered into a drawing to win a litter collection kit, including a litter grabber, bucket, gloves, and a hat. The winner will be contacted directly by May 13.

The Summer Challenge combines individual litter cleanup with online educational programming at 10:30 a.m. on the second and forth Saturdays of the month through September 19. These programs will cover river history, ecology, wildlife, water quality, and climate change impacts on the river system and highlight a different Chicago River Day sponsor. Sign up to attend on our events page.

Pledge your support by registering for the My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge

Volunteers who participate in the My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge: 

  1. Review these important safety precautions. Be sure to wear gloves, sturdy shoes, and a tie your hair back or wear a hat. A litter grabber and bucket will make your cleanup safer and easier.
  2. Report your cleanup so we can measure our collective impact and so you can receive a Chicago River Day 2020 T-shirt.
  3. Post a photo to the My Chicago River Day Summer Challenge map. This is a cool new way for us to see who's helping and where! You need to be signed into a Google account and you can either drop a pin or draw a line where you did your cleanup. If you don't have a Google account, don't worry, just email Friends and we will post your photo for you. 
  4. Promote the Summer Challenge to your friends and family through social media. Share or invite people to the Facebook Event. Use the hashtags #LosetheLitter and #LitterFreeChicagoRiver.

The first of the Summer Challenge programs helped volunteers learn how to utilize the Litter Free Chicago River Toolkit, to organize a cleanup once COVID-19 restrictions are modified or lifted. Working together we can create aLitter Free Chicago River. Remember, litter on your street is one rainstorm away from being litter in the river. 

Chicago River Day is a fun annual spring cleaning of our beloved Chicago and Calumet Rivers. Every year since 1992, from Lake County to the Indiana border, volunteers help remove ugly and harmful litter from city parks, forest preserves, neighborhood blocks, and businesses. Together we make an immediate positive impact and bring about long-term improvements in the health of the Chicago River. Studies show areas without litter deter future littering, making Chicago River Day critical strategy of the Litter Free Chicago River initiative.

For over 40 years Friends has protected and improved the water quality and surrounding habitat of the Chicago River system. Once forgotten and neglected, with the support of our volunteers, members and sponsors, we now enjoy a vibrant and accessible river system alive with over 70 species of fish, countless species of birds, and many other animals including beavers, mink, and turtles. 

Pumpkinseed, Lepomis gibbosus. Photo credit: Tino Strauss, WikiCommons.

We feature a river animal each year to put a face to the name "wildlife," and help us to connect to the many different animals who rely on us to care for and protect this important river system.

This year's featured animal is the pumpkinseed, a species of sunfish. Last year, after barriers preventing fish access to Mill Creek from the Cal-Sag Channel were removed in a project by Friends, the pumpkinseed moved right in. To celebrate this newly accessible habitat, we honor the pumpkinseed and its home in the Chicago River watershed.

The Chicago River is cleaner than it has been in generations but litter remains a stubborn problem. With the support of the Mars Wrigley Foundation and in partnership with REI, Shedd Aquarium, Waste Management, and Loyola University’s Dr. Tim Hoellein, we launched an initiative to create a Litter Free Chicago River. We are working to understand the sources and types of litter; to create an informed approach to stopping litter before it reaches the ground or water.