North Branch Survey Recommendations: More Paddling Spots, Concrete Removal, Better Signage

The portion of the North Branch of the Chicago River between River Park and Gompers Park is one of the waterway’s most beautiful stretches—but there are still a number of ways it can be improved for paddlers, hikers, and bicyclists.

That was the conclusion of a partnership that included Friends of the Chicago River which surveyed the area on land and in the water this summer.

Among the recommendations:

  • Increase recreational opportunities by activating the River Park Boathouse; enhancing a canoe and kayak launching area at Kiwanis Park; and investigating a new launch site at Carmen Avenue.
  • Remove the concrete lining the riverbed from the confluence of the North Branch and the North Shore Channel to Central Park Avenue.
  • Make the waterway stretch safer by adding low-cost signage to alert recreational users to river hazards such as rocks and pipes.
  • Improve trail surfacing, access, and signage.
  • Update the pedestrian bridges at Spaulding Avenue, Bernard Street, and Carmen Avenue, for easier use by bicyclists.
  • Install traffic-calming devices at a number of intersections on the trail.

This summer, Friends of the Chicago River, Active Transportation Alliance, and the North River Commission, with the support of REI and the Chicago Park District, joined forces to host a series of walking, paddling, and in-stream wading surveys. Local residents, Northeastern Illinois University students, staff from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Planning Commission, and Ald. Samantha Nugent’s 39th Ward office also contributed.

The river audit tools and tasks were created by Friends to survey specific components of the corridor, including potential recreational launch sites, existing fencing, riverbank stability, in-stream recreational hazards, concrete lining location, and the presence of invasive vegetation, habitat, and wildlife.

The removal of the North Branch dam at River Park in the summer of 2018 has significantly improved the ecological health and recreational access to this portion of the river system and was the impetus to study this area in more detail.

Friends of the Chicago River’s efforts to remove the dam at River Park began in 2000, a goal aimed at removing an insurmountable  barrier to fish and other wildlife, improving the overall ecology of the waterway and returning the site to its natural beauty. The dam was built at the confluence of the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel in 1910. Removing the dam opens up about 20 miles of waterway.

“The river survey was a unique opportunity to expose residents and agency partners to this somewhat undiscovered stretch of the river system. We were able to identify, photograph, and map new opportunities to improve access to and the of health of this recreational and ecological community asset,” said Friends Planning Director Adam Flickinger. 

Friends jointly hosted the event, compiled the survey findings, and will continue to work with the North River Commission and partners to implement the recommendations.

The entire Upper North Branch Audit findings can be found here.