Chicago River Blue Awards

Congratulations to our 2021-2022 Award Winners!

We celebrate that our Chicago River Blue Award winners are making intentional choices to drive innovation for the continued protection and improvement of the Chicago-Calumet River system and surrounding watersheds.

View a complete list of past winners.


The Blue Ribbon Award winners represent creative and river-sensitive development, design, planning and leadership throughout the watershed. Only one Blue Ribbon is awarded annually. Past winners include the Horner Park Ecosystem Restoration, the Chicago Riverwalk, the Eleanor Street Boathouse, former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and RainReady.


The Forge: Lemont Quarries

Serving as an innovative leader in outdoor recreation, The Forge: Lemont Quarries is a 300-acre adventure park located in Lemont, Illinois, 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. The site offers mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboat excursions. There are numerous educational opportunities for visitors such as skills development programs, school field trips, environmental education programming, and more. We celebrate The Forge: Lemont Quarries and their dedication to restoration and preservation, so that future generations can engage with these vibrant river ecosystems.


The Ford Calumet Environmental Center

Chicago Park District

The Ford Calumet Environmental Center embodies how nature and the built environment can exist in harmony. The diverse array of plant species on the site filter the building’s blackwater, instead of diverting it back into the already overwhelmed Chicago sewer system. The Ford Calumet Environmental Center encourages environmental education throughout the Calumet region, supporting Friend’s education and outreach program goals of cultivating awareness and stewardship within the Chicago watershed region. We are thrilled by how it has turned out, and all the creativity and innovation that went into its design and programming.

Additional Project Team Partner: Friends of Big Marsh


The Silver Ribbon is awarded to projects that exhibit an exceptional level of sustainable practices and design excellence on multiple levels.

Photo credit: Rudy Schultz


The African American Heritage Trail


The African American Heritage Water Trail memorializes the remarkable stories of African Americans who utilized and settled along the Calumet River: freedom seekers who traveled the Underground Railroad, trailblazers who defied discrimination, learned to fly, and became Tuskegee Airmen, and pioneers in the struggle for civil rights and environmental justice. We are proud to honor this project that uses the power of storytelling to exemplify important historical moments of the Chicago River system.

Additional Project Team Partners: Robbins History Museum, The Village of Robbins, Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, We Keep You Rollin’, Golden Gate Homeowners Association, People for Community Recovery, The Forest Preserves of Cook County, The Field Museum, The Metropolitan Planning Council.

Photo credit: Dave Burk, SOM

The Wild Mile Floating Park, Learning Platform

Urban Rivers

The Wild Mile will be the first-ever mile-long floating eco-park in the world. The project aims to reclaim the North Branch Canal and Turning Basin to create a new environment for habitat, recreation, and education. We are so excited to see the first phase of this long-awaited project built and open for the public to use. We know that it took considerable effort by the team to realize this unique vision for the North Branch Canal.  

Addition Project Team Partners: Shedd Aquarium, City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Near North Unity Program, Neighborspace


The Green Ribbon Award recognizes projects that demonstrate a high level of river-sensitive design and consideration.



Natalie Creek Flood Control Project

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD)

During a 100-year rain event, the impact of the Natalie Creek Flood Control Project will reduce flooding for 237 structures and protect the residents of Midlothian and Oak Forest. We feel that the Natalie Creek Project provides an innovative approach to flood mitigation, using small stream restoration and naturalization techniques. We are excited to see MWRD taking on these types of projects, especially in key tributary areas of the watershed.

Additional Project Team Partners: Village of Midlothian, City of Oak Forest, Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co., IHC Construction Companies, LLC

Photo credit: Epstein/Ballog Photography

Riverview Bridge and Trail Connection

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)

The Riverview Bridge and Trail Connection provides a connecting route for pedestrians and bicyclists between the trails in Clark, California and Horner parks. This new trail connection provides an exciting way to explore and experience the natural beauty and recreational opportunities along the Chicago River, and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate all the efforts that went into realizing this project.

Additional Project Team Partners: Chicago Park District, Epstein, Illinois Constructors Corporation, AECOM

Phtoto credit: Civiltech

Lincoln Village Pedestrain Bridge

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)

The 16-foot-wide, 180-foot-long Lincoln Village Pedestrain Bridge provides access across the North Shore Channel at Hood Avenue. This project is the final link in the creation of a continuous multi-use trail connecting four municipalities along the North Shore Channel. In addition to expanding existing trails, the project removed overgrown vegetation and planted new trees and landscaping. We honor this project for its dedication towards accessibility to the river and increasing connectivity.

Additional Project Team Partners: Chicago Park District, Civiltech Engineering, Inc., McHugh Construction, DB Sterlin Consultants

Wetlands Restoration and Preservation Plan

Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (LCSMC)

Using GIS analysis, the Wetlands Restoration and Preservation Plan (WRAPP) created an online geographic information systems tool to provide users with information and guidance to identify and prioritize opportunities for wetland preservation, based on site-specific goals. The WRAPP has contributed substantially to a deeper understanding of wetlands protection and enhancement efforts in the river system’s headwaters of Lake County, and we are thrilled to have this as a resource and as a precedent to promote planning and policy interventions throughout the Chicago watershed region.

Wolf Point East

Wolf Point East Investors LLC

Wolf Point East, a multifamily community, displays green infrastructure proudly as an asset to urban living. The site includes a 1,000-foot extension of the Chicago Riverwalk and a public park that is filled with over two acres of native trees, flowers, and grasses. The landscaped treatment that has resulted from the second phase of this development includes a planted terrace with multiple species of trees and shrubs that support microhabitat creation on this dense downtown site.

Why We Care

Flowing and meandering through urban and suburban communities, forest preserves and parks, industrial and commercial districts, as well as the heart of downtown, the 156-mile long Chicago-Calumet River system connects millions of people to nature. It provides wildlife a place to live, considerable recreational opportunity, and an ever-increasing diversity of economic benefits derived from the waterfront.

As a result, the Chicago-Calumet River system is emerging as one of the best opportunities for improving quality of life for people who live and work in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. However, the pressure to develop the river’s edge in order to maximize economic opportunity also creates potential to destroy the magic the river provides.

It is critical to continue focusing on and comprehensively understanding what kinds of actions will protect the river system and its health while providing public access. It is also imperative to adopt sustainable land use and development techniques and address how our water resources are managed throughout the Chicago River watershed to provide a systematic approach for growth. How water flows in, on, and through properties impacts the quality of the river. Both on-site management and water conservation matter, whether it’s along the river’s banks or from miles away.

To address these issues, Friends of the Chicago River developed Chicago River Blue, a campaign aimed at educating, encouraging, and rewarding developments that take people, wildlife, and clean water into special account. We provide guidelines and resources to our panel of planning and design experts, then hold the annual Chicago River Blue Awards ceremony to honor those whose work exemplifies the “Blue Principles for River Design”.