First-Ever Chicago River Revival Festival Goes Swimmingly

Friends of the Chicago River's first-ever Chicago River Revival Festival was a hit with hundreds of people on gathering Saturday September 7 at Ping Tom Memorial Park to celebrate our 40th anniversary of improving and protecting the waterway for people, plants, and animals.

The Chicago River Revival Festival included the third Big Jump! event that featured federal, state and local elected officials and dignitaries leaping into the Chicago River to illustrate improved water quality and press for regular swimming. The Big Jump! was hosted by Friends and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita.

Jumpers included Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs; State Rep. Theresa Mah (2nd); State Sen. Robert Peters (13th); City of Chicago Alds. Susan Garza (10th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Rossana Rodriguez (33rd),  and Andre Vasquez (40th); Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison (15th); Commissioners Morita, Marcelino Garcia, and executive director Brian Perkovich of the MWRD; and representatives from key partners including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard.

Murals marking the 20th anniversary of Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago’s Chinatown were dedicated. The creators of “Between the Mountains and the Water” and “Be Like Water,” artist Anna P. Murphy with special thanks to Chester Chow, were on hand for the ceremony. Also attending was Darryl Tom, whose businessman father Ping Tom Memorial Park is named for, and Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

Other events included lion dancers, wildlife demonstrations, canoeing, fishing, food trucks, and live music including a string quartet and Chinese opera singers. The festival was presented by McDermott Will & Emery.

“When Friends was founded 40 years ago most people would have never believed that one day we would all be jumping in a river alive with wildlife let alone swimming,” said Friends' Frisbie. “We are proud of the progress we have made that led to this moment and grateful to the many elected officials, nonprofits partners, and people of the region who worked with us to bring the river to life once again."

“For decades the district used to dump raw sewage into the river. Instead today we disinfect water from our O’Brien and Calumet plants so that is cleaner than the river itself and almost drinkable. We all share the goal of a clean and healthy Chicago River for everybody and believe that before long swimming won’t seem like such a surprise,” said Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita.

“My father was a big advocate for a park in Chinatown to replace the ones that were lost when the Dan Ryan was constructed.  Though he didn't get to see it, I think he would be more than pleased to see how beautiful it is and how many people enjoy it every day,” said Ping Tom’s son Darryl Tom.

“McDermott Will & Emery is so pleased to be part of the Chicago River Revival Festival and to share in the celebration of Friends 40th anniversary,” said Callahan. “Their efforts have transformed the riverfront and help position Chicago as a great place to live, work, and visit. We congratulate everyone on their success.”

Friends of the Chicago River's accomplishments since 1979 include:

  • Through our public policy and planning work we focus on long term systemic change which improves the river's health, use, and accessibility. These efforts helped require disinfection to effluent released into the river, set standards for river-edge development, and helped establish the benefits of developing and protecting the river as a blue/green corridor.
  • Our education and outreach efforts cultivate awareness and stewardship. The Chicago River Schools Network has reached more than 100,000 teachers and students. Friends' McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum recently welcomed its 250,000th visitor. Since we launched our Canoe Program in 1995, we have built appreciation for the river system by enabling tens of thousands of people to get an up-close look at what a natural gem this waterway is. Our Overflow Action Day effort seeks to reduce combined sewage overflows. And our Litter Free Chicago River initiative works not only to remove litter from the system but to better understand its origins, causes and develop potential remedies.
  • Friends' on-the-ground projects physically improve the health of the Chicago and Calumet River system. Our wildlife habitat work has benefited all kinds of wildlife including turtles, birds, bats, and fish. We partnered with Illinois DNR to design and install innovative 400 channel catfish nesting cavities and release 277,000 baby channel cats. Our recent project to remove a barrier between the Cal-Sag Channel and Mill Creek is already indicating success, with more fish being observed upstream. Our land restoration work not only helps wildlife but improves water quality as well.

Media coverage of the event included the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, CBS2, ABC7, and Fox32, WBBM-Newsradio 780, WBEZ-FM, Curbed Chicago, Block Club Chicago, and the Xinhua News Agency.

 Friends thanks the many partners, members and volunteers for making the first Chicago River Revival Festival a success. More video and photos are below.

Ready, set...

And a second wave...

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie, and Darryl Tom, son of Ping Tom.

A nice warm day made for a comfortable swim.

Thanks to the Chicago Park District for all its help in presenting the fest, including free fishing.

Lots of fun things for kids to do...

Wildlife included this box turtle from the Cook County Forest Preserves.

Volunteers with the Chicago Bears 100th anniversary community service project helped spruce up Ping Tom Park.

Catching some art...

Nice work from the Chinatown Museum Foundation!

Friends of the Chicago River Ecology Outreach Manager Mark Hauser was one of several staffers giving presentations.

Thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard for demonstrating some of the tricks of their trade.

Illinois Lt. Governor Stratton Juliana Stratton spoke before the dedication of the park's new murals.

Artist Anna P. Murphy is the creator of the mural with special thanks to Chester Chow.

When it comes to the Chicago River, Friends of the Chicago River is always big news.

Commissioner Josina Morita and Friends Executive Director Margaret Frisbie.

Wonderful music enjoyed by all.

A splash of color from the lion dancers.


Friends' Director of Strategic Inititatives Joanne So Young Dill at the podium.

Friends of the Chicago River Board President Sally Fletcher. No life preserver needed!

The Big Fish Boys congratulate Friends' Volunteer and Events Coordinator Annette Anderson for an organizing job well done!