Immersive Canoe Events Turn First-Time Paddlers into Longtime River Advocates

Paddlers depart River Park at the October 29, 2022 Halloween paddle and head toward the North Shore Channel (photo credit: Christopher I. Cedillo).

Under the light of the moon, donning festive Halloween costumes, 40 paddlers canoed from River Park in the Albany Park neighborhood up the North Shore Channel at our special Halloween paddle October 29. This incredibly fun event capped a successful canoe season where we hosted 43 canoe trips from experiential paddles introducing people to the natural wonders of the river to stewardship events like paddle and plants, and canoe and cleans.

This season’s Halloween paddle exemplifies the importance of experiential paddles where many first-time paddlers become longtime river advocates after exploring the Chicago and Little Calumet rivers, observing and appreciating the beauty and wildlife of the river system in an immersive experience from the water.

“It’s a joy to see so many first-time participants experience the magic of the river system with our trained volunteer guides whose knowledge and dedication make it all happen; it was an exceptional season,” said Annette Anderson, Friends’ volunteer, events, and canoe program manager. “Kudos to our all-volunteer guide crew, including 16 new guides, who did outstanding work keeping participants safe at all our canoe events including our big Chicago Summer Float Party where we had 40 guides on the water. With no time to waste, planning for the 2023 paddle and canoe and clean season is already underway.”

Other special paddles this season included Boats and Brews on the North Branch and the Little Calumet River, a Full Moon Paddle, and the debut of Birding from Boats, a partnership with the Chicago Ornithological Society, to spot migrating birds in the spring and fall. 

Through our Paddle and Plant program, Friends and our partners at the Shedd Aquarium continued to improve habitat in the Chicago-Calumet River system by working side-by-side with volunteers to install native aquatic plants. At four planting days hosted along the Little Calumet River and two on the North Shore Channel, nearly 60 volunteers installed a total of 1,492 native plants of aquatic lizard’s tail and water willow. These plants are specially chosen because can with stand the unnatural fluctuation on water levels that our urban river system experiences because so much water runs off into the system. Able to grown into enormous stands, water willow and lizard’s tail provide high-quality habitat for aquatic organisms, protect shorelines from bank erosion, create shelter for aquatic life during floods, and improve the aesthetics of the river for recreational users. Since 2017, Friends and the Shedd have partnered together to plant 11,428 plants which are rapidly expanding along the riverbanks as planned.

Our Canoe and Clean program brought more than 200 paddlers out on the Chicago and Calumet rivers to create cleaner, safer rivers by cleaning up trash. They were complemented by more than 3,000 litter-free volunteers who collected litter from river-adjacent parks and forest preserves this season. Canoe and clean events are some of the most popular and immersive ways to get involved with our ongoing Litter Free Chicago-Calumet River initiative. Volunteer teams utilize Friends’  Litter Free Chicago River Toolkit for safety tips while on the water as they fill trash bags with garbage pulled from the river; the teams also engage in discussions about how people can work together to prevent litter and reduce the use of single use plastics which constitute the largest percentage of litter we find in and along the Chicago and Calumet Rivers. 

Friends is available to take groups of 10 or more out on the river at a variety of locations along the Chicago River system. No experience is necessary for our paddles events —our fun, knowledgeable guides provide safety and paddling instruction plus all of the necessary equipment. To schedule an event contact Annette Anderson at