New Friends' Video Celebrates Chicago River Renaissance

As a finalist for the coveted 2019 Thiess International Riverprize for exceptional river basin management, Friends of the Chicago River worked with Daily Planet Productions of Chicago to produce a new video detailing the renaissance of the waterway and our part in that improvement over the last 40 years.

“The transformation of the 156-mile Chicago river system from a neglected and abused waterway of the past to the treasured natural, recreational, and economic resource that it is today is something of which we can all be proud,” said Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie.

Friends was one of three finalists for the Riverprize, joining the James River Association, representing the James River in Virginia, and the Whangawehi Catchment Management Group, which focuses on the Whangawehi Stream in New Zealand. The award went to the James River Association, officials announced at the 22nd International Riversyposium in Brisbane, Australia.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot credited Friends with helping transform the river.

“The Chicago River has shaped our city since its inception, and thanks to the leadership and hard work of Friends of the Chicago River, the river is now an ecological and cultural destination on par with any of our parks, skyscrapers or cultural institutions,” Lightfoot said in prepared remarks. “From our downtown Riverwalk through our neighborhood boathouses—and not too long from now, our 312 RiverRun Trail—the Chicago River is one of the threads that ties our communities, residents, and visitors together as they boat, kayak, fish, or simply relax and enjoy everything our beautiful home has to offer. Chicagoans simply wouldn't be able to enjoy and benefit from this resource without Friends of the Chicago River. I am grateful for their stewardship.”

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a longtime supporter of Friends, praised Friends as a valued partner.

“The Forest Preserves of Cook County’s collaborative partnership with Friends of the Chicago River has allowed us to leverage resources and expertise on a wide range of initiatives including environmental education projects; stewardship recruitment to remove litter and invasive plants; water monitoring; large-scale land restoration projects; and promoting paddling as a healthy outdoor recreation activity,” said Preckwinkle.  

“Friends’  willingness to lead difficult conversations, their tenacity to solve problems that seem insurmountable, and their enthusiasm for new partners and new collaborations makes them a cherished partner and an asset to this region,” said Preckwinkle.

Cathy Breitenbach, director of the Chicago Park District’s department of cultural and natural resources, said, “Chicago's motto, ‘urbs in horto,’ means ‘city in a garden,’ and a garden needs clean water to grow. Friends of the Chicago River is on the forefront of making that happen—creating a clean, healthy accessible river for all Chicagoans and our wildlife to enjoy.”

Lake County Stormwater Management Commission Executive Director Michael Warner, said, “Friends’ ability to craft, target and deliver the right message to the right decision makers, while building socio-political momentum to further a cause, is unparalleled in this region.”

Frisbie added that "while Friends has worked for decades to bring the river to life and we have made great progress, there is still work to do."

"We are committed to ensuring that soon people will be swimming in the river, that it will be sewage and litter free, and that we complete our vision for the river to be a blue/green corridor of connected natural open space with clean water and healthy, accessible habitat where people and wildlife can thrive,” said Frisbie.

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The Thiess International Riverprize is generously supported by the Bert & Vera Thiess Foundation as a legacy and recognition of the long-term efforts of the late Bert and Vera Thiess to encourage sustainable management of the world’s rivers. The award is presented through the International RiverFoundation (IRF), a not-for-profit organization that builds river leadership and strong networks for the restoration, protection, sustainable management and resilience of the world’s rivers.

In Brisbane, International RiverFoundation board chairman Paul F. Greenfield said, "All the finalists shared the same characteristics: dedication, persistence, and commitment to work over many, many years."

"Being shortlisted is a real and wonderful accomplishment," Greenfield added.