Record-breaking 30th Annual Chicago River Day

Volunteers at Chicago's Ping Tom Park were among the more than 2,000 volunteers who picked up litter, removed invasive plants, and restored trails on Chicago River Day which was held on May 14, 2022.

The 30th Annual Chicago River Day was a huge success with a record-breaking number of volunteers and site locations. More than 2,000 individuals, families, community groups, and corporate teams worked in and along the river system at a record-breaking 77 locations in the city, suburbs, and forest preserves this past Saturday.

Thank you to all our generous sponsors, outstanding partners, and volunteers for making the 156-miles of Chicago-Calumet River system healthier and more accessible for people, plants, and animals of all kinds.

Listen to an in-depth WBEZ Reset program interview about 30 years of river stewardship with Friends’ Executive Director Margaret Frisbie and Kathy Karen Weigert, director of Loyola University Chicago’s Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise and Responsibility and Reset’s sustainability contributor.

Hard-working volunteers fanned out along the river system in Chicago, and as far north as Lincolnshire, Lake Forest and North Chicago in Lake County and south and southwest including Dolton, Riverdale, Palos and Summit. Chicago River Day also kicked off our summer-long litter removal effort under Friends’ Litter Free Chicago-Calumet River program which includes more litter cleanup events, including by canoe.

What began in 1992 as Chicago River Rescue Day – reflecting the more dire environmental state of the river 30 years ago – has steadily grown into the Friends’ largest and most popular volunteer event of the year. Over the last 30 years volunteers have carted off more than 1.9 million pounds of garbage and invasive plant material river system and adjacent lands, restoring riverbanks and open spaces for a litter free Chicago-Calumet river system. 

The Chicago River system is making a strong comeback due to action and advocacy on its behalf; the results are smarter policy decisions for the implementation of water quality standards, disinfection to protect recreational users, more open public space, and wildlife restoration.

Thirty years and more than 70,000 volunteers after the first Chicago River Day, the Chicago River system is no longer a forgotten waterway fenced off and filled with sewage and trash. Instead, the river system is vibrant wildlife corridor, accessible, and alive with people, over 75 species of fish; countless species of birds; and many native animals including beavers, turtles, and the river otter, which symbolizes the river’s return to health. 

A special thank you to our 30 generous corporate partners whose support helps to make it all happen with supplies and teams of employees who volunteer to help make Chicago River Day a success.