I arrived at Dick’s Last Resort to sign up for Leinenkugel’s Friendly Float down the Chicago River. When my turn in line came up to check in they asked me for my name. I told them Edward (my real name) Nelson. They scanned the list to no avail. I then suggested they try Ted Nelson. They looked, but still could not find it. Then one of the girls said “are you Traveling Ted?” Bingo, I was in.
Seventy-five canoes participate
Seventy-five canoes sailed down the Chicago River from a put in on Chicago’s northwest side to Dick’s Last Resort on Dearborn. The purpose of the trip was to create awareness for the city, state, federal, somebody, anybody to clean the Chicago River.
Chicago is the only city in the U.S. that allows untreated sewage into their river waters. I thought the Friendly Float was planned as a media event to bring awareness to others; however, there was not much media on the trip. How would this trip help the cause I wondered.
The first part of the trip was pleasant as there was a green corridor on the far left shore that provided shade and a refuge for birds. Two green herons shared a tree. Numerous ducks and geese hung out under downfalls along the shore. A turtle bathed in the sun. We saw a great-blue heron, a hooded merganser, a black-crowned night heron, and terns and gulls patrolled up and down the river. Sadly, birds were not the story of the day.
From green zone to something else
We then passed from the green zone into a different ecological zone. The sludge zone consisted of a smelly odor, greenish looking water (it really is not that difficult to turn this river green on St. Patty’s Day), and a paucity of trees and shrubs.
Just like any outdoor experience it is great when one can experience different ecosystems. In nature there are lakes, ponds, woods etc. . . Chicago River is the same way as it takes paddlers from the green zone to the sludge zone and then into the industrial zone. The beautiful scrap metal mountains lie in the distance in the industrial zone while empty beer bottles float alongside tennis balls and other filth.
We soon emerged from the industrial ecosystem into the downtown district and ended our paddle. I was ready for the Leinenkugel’s celebration as a summer shandy had been on my mind for the last two hours. In the back of my mind I wondered what the purpose of the event was. Was it just an event to promote Leinenkugel’s beer or the Chicago River?
Celebration with Leinenkugel’s
I was introduced to John Leinenkugel at Dick’s while enjoying a summer shandy. The first thing he said was “wow, that river needs help.” It then occurred to me what the purpose of the event was for. The float was to show 150 canoeists what sad shape the Chicago River is in.
The event itself was not the focus of event, but the impact the paddle had on us and how we frame the experience to others is what is important. It is a small beginning, but I think a brilliant start.
Vanguards of the Chicago River
However, it will not be a success if all of the 150 paddlers return home thankful for a free canoe trip, four free beers, breakfast, and two free brats. The event will be a failure if everyone involved becomes complacent. We are the vanguards of the effort and need to pressure our policymakers, tell friends, attend future cleanups, and do something to help the Chicago River.
The real vanguards are the Friend’s of the Chicago River and Leinenkugel’s, but they cannot do this on their own no matter how many great tasting beers they offer. They can get the fire started, but for the fire to stay burning we must fan the flames.
There is hope. Three different kinds of heron were spotted today. Recently a river otter was spotted on the river eating a dead fish, although it has not been seen since eating that fish. Birds and animals are waiting for us to do more so they can return in greater numbers.
Joined by Uncle Dan’s
I know for a fact that it has already made an impact. I invited Christine Garland from Uncle Dan’s Great Outdoor Store. She brought along her boyfriend and another friend. They were all excited about the event and looked forward to future outings and clean ups. Hopefully, they will tell their friends and the campaign will snowball.
Thanks for joining me Christine and awesome job paddling up front. You looked like a seasoned veteran up there.
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