International Sailing Athletes Join Friends for on the Water Restoration

Sailing athletes from New Zealand, Canada, and Denmark prepare to plant water willow in the Chicago River.

Friends of the Chicago River and international sailing athletes from SailGP teamed up Wednesday to improve habitat in the Chicago River system by installing native aquatic plants along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Led by Friends’ staff and volunteer canoe guides, athletes from across SailGP’s nine international teams donned hip waders and accessed planting spots via canoes from the Lathrop Homes dock on the North Branch in Chicago. This weekend, SailGP visits Chicago for the first time for the T-Mobile U.S Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier. 

Read more about our aquatic plant restoration program at WTTW News and watch the Benaeth the Surface video below which incldues a profile of how we help protect the Chicago-Calumet River system for people, plants, and animals.

As part of SailGP’s year-round purpose-led calendar of sustainable initiatives, the league is helping expand Friends’ instream planting program through the planting of over 5,000 plants over a two mile stretch of river. To kick off the project ahead of racing this weekend, the athletes paddled and planted great bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) and water willow (usticia americana) along the riverbank.

These native plant communities, which are resilient to changing water levels, provide habitat for fish, turtles, and small mammals such as otters, muskrats, and beavers, as well as improving water quality and helping to mitigate climate change.

Since 2017, Friends of the Chicago River and the Shedd Aquarium have partnered together on aquatic plant installations in the Little Calumet River and the North Shore Channel. Through this initiative, over 9,700 plants native to Illinois have been planted along the river system. Over time these aquatic plant species expand into lush colonies in the emergent zone of the river providing many benefits for fish to locate food and rest, bank erosion control, and aid in water quality improvement.