This past Saturday marked the third annual Leinenkugel or Leinies Friendly Float down the Chicago River. I am proud to say that I have taken part in all three adventures. It is something I look forward to each year as it is a fun canoe trip and party and for a great cause.
The Friendly Float is run to provide awareness to the plight of the Chicago River. The Chicago River was placed on the conservation group American Rivers top ten most endangered rivers two years ago, but has since been taken off. Most likely due to grass roots efforts like the canoe trip sponsored by Leinenkugels. Although the river is off the list, it does not mean it is clean and time to swim.
“The Chicago River has played a vital role in the history of this incredible city,” said Jake Leinenkugel, president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company based in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. “The annual ‘Friendly Float’ is a way to not only help our neighbors realize the significance of the river, but also spotlight the importance and value of preserving it for future generations.”
The event starts with registration at Dick’s Last Resort on Dearborn Street above from Marina City where the canoe trip ends. Leinenkugel’s provides a wonderful buffet breakfast replete with eggs, bacon, potatoes, fresh fruit, danishes, and coffee. You definitely want to carb up to energize yourself for the roughly five mile paddle.
We then loaded on to buses and headed down to Park 571 (S. Lock St. & W. Fuller St.) I met a Leinenkugel PR rep who said I was on the VIP bus. Sure enough, Jake, John, and Dick were on our bus. We received instruction on the way down from the beautiful Jessica from the Friends of the Chicago River. Jessica forewarned us that there would be more commercial boat activity on the water as usual do to some party event.
The last two years we have done this same route from this south Chicago park up river to Dick’s. The first year we started at Rockwell north of the city and also finished at Dick’s. I liked this stretch a little better as the first couple of miles are fairly green with opportunities to see herons and kingfishers.
The nice aspect of the southern route is you get outstanding unobstructed views of the skyline. As I was admiring the Willis Tower another paddler passed by and mentioned you do not get views like that from land. This is so true and you also do not get the same type of experience from a guided boat tour.
The boat tours are great but there is something about experiencing these views using your own resources to propel yourself forward. Since you do not go as fast as a motor boat, you also have more time to savor the experience.
The trip is not without hazards. Once you get farther north you start to get the water taxi and tour boat traffic. Waves are no big deal. You just need to make sure you angle the bow of the boat into the waves to lessen the chance of tipping. With cement shorelines the waves bounce right back and form with the rest of the waves creating a tricky dynamic. I enjoyed it though as it keeps you on your toes.
Soon we passed the Merchandise Mart and the Marina Towers came into view signalling the end of another Friendly Float. Though the paddle had ended the party had just begun. We again were treated to another buffet of great food including wings, pulled pork sandwiches, bratwurst, and of course beer.
Each paddler was given a bracelet with three drink tabs good for three beers. The weather was unseasonably mild and barely topped 70 degrees, which was quite a change from the heat wave conditions from last year. Weather definitely has not only an effect on the paddler, but also the kind of beer they drink. Last year I lapped up the summer shandies, which is the perfect beer for a hot summer day, but this year’s cooler conditions called for less sweet beers and several crisp and clean canoe paddlers and the heavier Leinie’s Red were just the ticket.
I was introduced to Jake and thanked him once again for sponsoring such a fun event for such a great cause. There is more work to be done to clean the river and a paddle down the river will not alone do it; However, keeping the plight of our river in the conscience of the mainstream is the first step to protecting the main stream of Chicago. On behalf of Chicago, thanks Leinenkugel’s for thinking of the water quality of your southern neighbor’s most famous river.
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