Our Statement about Dyeing the Chicago River Green

When is it time for a new tradition?

The epicenter of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in America, Chicago is renowned for its parades, Irish dancers, bagpipe bands, and the tradition of dyeing the river green.

When the dyeing tradition started in 1962, on average there was sewage in the river every three days. It was fenced off and so polluted that it would have been difficult to imagine the river as it is today alive with people enjoying it in myriad ways and of all kinds of wildlife including more than 75 species of fish, turtles, herons, and beavers. Chicago’s river and its vibrant river-based economy rival any in the world. 

Friends of the Chicago River is proud of the part we played in improving the river’s health and transforming it from a back alleyway to a true economic engine that is healthy, accessible, and fun. 

Over the years as we helped the river come back to life, we have wondered when this river dyeing tradition might end, understanding that it is beloved by many and a new idea and even more exciting one would need to replace it. We need another marvel that can capture the magic but would treat our recovering river as a valued natural resource not just the backdrop for fun.

So today, while the revelers revel and enjoy the day, we ask all of you who love the river and its eponymous city to join us in reimagining the wonders of the day. How might we celebrate as large and as mighty as before but with a new spirit that lifts up our living river rather than conceals it? The City of Big Shoulders is a city of big ideas. Let’s work together on a good one! 

If people have ideas about how this tradition could evolve, please send them to friends@chicagoriver.org.