Did I get your attention? What if I’d said, “Let’s clean up the Chicago River,” instead? Not quite the same, right? Then how about this: “Participate in the 2nd Annual Canoes for a Cause Chicago Friendly Float down the Chicago River, and be treated to breakfast, lunch, and beer.” Now we’re talking!
Along with my husband, Mark, and fellow Chicago-based travel blogger, Traveling Ted, I spent this past Saturday paddling the Chicago River and picking up some trash along the way. Maybe it was the promise of free beer that lured in some of the 300 paddlers to this year’s event, but I’d like to think more people participated in order to shed light on the improving-but-still-not-so-great state of the Chicago River.
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company teamed up with Friends of the Chicago River to organize the event and, I have to say, it was incredibly fun! No detail was overlooked, from the Ziploc baggies we all received, filled with things like red Leinenkugel’s baseball caps and rubber gloves to wear while pulling trash out of the river; to bottles of cold water, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes waiting for us at the end of the float. The event was so well-organized that, even without the complimentary food and beer, I’d participate every year. And the most impressive part? The three Leinenkugel brothers – Jake, John, and Dick – all were in attendance. They didn’t just offer their name to use as an endorsement and send cases of beer to distribute; they actually got into canoes and paddled alongside the participants, and even hung out at Dick’s Last Resort afterward and continued to spread the word about the importance of cleaning up the Chicago River. As if I needed any more convincing, I am a true fan and supporter of Leinenkugel’s from here on out. (And the fact that these brothers make delicious beer doesn’t hurt.)
The paddle itself was immensely enjoyable. We put in just off Loomis Street, at about 2800South, and paddled back up to Dick’s Last Resort near the Dearborn Street Bridge, about 300North. I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life, driving over and alongside the river countless times. I’ve been on the river in water taxis and tour boats, but never really ON the river like I was on Saturday. Being in a canoe really offers a different perspective: it makes the relationship with the water more personal and brings us closer to it, both literally and figuratively. Instead of driving over the numerous bridges spanning the waterway, I got to float under them and admire the craftsmanship, and look up at the steel beams and metal latticework. It also brought me closer to, and allowed me to see with my own eyes, the trash and debris polluting the river. While it’s true that the river has been cleaned up considerably over the last few years, it still has a long way to go. We were supplied with nets and trash bags to collect garbage while paddling. Mark and I took our time, stopping frequently to scoop up plastic bottles, food wrappers, and even a hair pick. Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but when we pulled in at Dick’s, we were told that we brought in the biggest bag of trash.
Attention: No beer was consumed while canoeing, but several were enjoyed afterward on dry land back at Dick’s Last Resort.
Thanks to Leinenkugel’s and Friends of the Chicago River for organizing and hosting such an important and enjoyable event. I’m definitely more aware of how much work still needs to be done in cleaning up the Chicago River and absolutely willing to take part in the effort. I’m also willing to drink even more Leinenkugel’s. (Oh, twist my arm!)
One last note: The Friendly Float is not intended for children due to the safety concerns and because beer is involved. In fact, participants must be 21 years old. However, volunteering to raise awareness, cleaning up the Chicago River, and not wrecking the planet, know no age limits.