Chicago River Blue Awards

Congratulations to our 2023 Award Winners!

We celebrate that our Chicago River Blue Award winners are making intentional choices to drive innovation for the continued protection and improvement of the Chicago-Calumet River system and surrounding watersheds.

View a complete list of past winners.


The Blue Ribbon Award winners represent creative and river-sensitive development, design, planning and leadership throughout the watershed. Only one Blue Ribbon is awarded annually. Past winners include the Horner Park Ecosystem Restoration, the Chicago Riverwalk, the Eleanor Street Boathouse, former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and RainReady, The Forge: Lemont Quarries, and the Ford Calumet Environmental Center.


Alsip Boat Launch, East parking lot

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Increasing Green Infrastructure in the Little Calumet River Watershed

The Village of Alsip and the Morton Arboretum

This year we recognize an innovative project within the Village of Alsip in collaboration with the Morton Arboretum to transform an underutilized paved parking lot along the Cal-Sag Channel into a stormwater-capturing space that also serves as habitat and recreation. The project, called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Increasing Green Infrastructure in the Little Calumet River Watershed is a unique model for transforming river edge paved sites into nature-based solutions with a host of co-benefits for people and wildlife.

Additional Project Team Partners: USDA Forest Service, Chicago Region Trees Initiative, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Greencorps Chicago, The Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, PlanIT Landscape Perspectives


The Silver Ribbon is awarded to projects that exhibit an exceptional level of sustainable practices and design excellence on multiple levels.


Photography by Kristin Pink

Palos and Sag Valley Forest Preserves Restoration

Forest Preserves of Cook County

The Palos and Sag Valley Forest Preserves Restoration Project is located in the southwest area of the Chicago-Calumet River watershed. This outstanding work that the Forest Preserves of Cook County and partners have achieved, is one of the largest restoration initiatives in the State. The project has restored hundreds of acres in the Sag Valley resulting in enhanced habitats for endangered species as well as increased stormwater capture and filtration along key tributaries to the river system.

Additional Project Team Partners: Friends of the Forest Preserves, Forest Preserve Foundation, Friends of the Chicago River, Palos Restoration Project, Anonymous Donor

Photography by Shigley Photo

Omni Ecosystems HQ Rooftop

Omni Ecosystems

The Omni Ecosystems HQ Rooftop is located in the Bronzeville community of Chicago. We celebrate the innovative and expansive rooftop landscape Omni Ecosystem’s headquarters was able to achieve with multi-layered native plants, trees, and shrubs. The project includes 150 trees, habitat and pollinator gardens, and extensive stormwater capturing features that support our goals for a more resilient and biodiverse watershed.


The Green Ribbon Award recognizes projects that demonstrate a high level of river-sensitive design and consideration.


Pekny Park Green Infrastructure

Riverdale Park District

The Pekny Park Green Infrastructure project is located in the community of Riverdale near the Little Calumet River. Pekny Park demonstrates how the use of nature-based solutions can be employed to address community flooding and resiliency challenges while also providing other benefits. We think the project is noteworthy for the way that a partnership through the StormStore program was used to implement creative nature-based solutions and we hope that it becomes a model for other similar projects throughout the watershed.

Additional Project Team Partners: The Center for Neighborhood Technology, OAI, Inc., the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Cook County

Cougle Foods Company Headquarters

Cougle Foods Headquarters is located along Bubbly Creek. We recognize Cougle Foods’ efforts to be the first property owner to follow the 2019 updated version of the Chicago River Design Guidelines. We especially appreciate the way that the team incorporated a well-connected river edge trail, pollinator plantings and native plants, extensive new trees, stormwater filtering bioswales, and educational signage into the river edge setback. We acknowledge Cougle Foods’ willingness to work with the City and other partners to be the test case for applying the expanded requirements of the 2019 Chicago River Design Guidelines.

Photography © by Dave Burk

The Meadow at the Old Post Office

601W Companies LLC

The Meadow at the Old Post Office is located along the South Branch of the Chicago River. The incredible scale of this rooftop landscape is astounding and worthy of recognition for its contributions to improving river edge resiliency, supporting downtown biodiversity, reducing the heat island effect, and other environmental benefits. We know that the unique design of the roof garden absorbs hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater each year, and this supports the health of the river by reducing the burden on the combined sewer system.

Additional Project Team Partners: Bear Construction, Christy Webber Landscaping, Gensler Architects, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, JLL Project Development Services

The Preserve of Highland Park

Park District of Highland Park

The Preserve of Highland Park shows foresight and creativity in transforming a golf course into a publicly accessible natural area along the Skokie River, which is the east fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The site’s transformation includes new habitat and native plants, stormwater filtering landscapes, invasive plant removal, trails, educational signage, picnic areas, and nature-play spaces. Friends sees this amazing project as a good case study for the multi-benefit approach to nature-based solutions that we promote through our Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance initiative. This is a site approach that could be applied to many other places throughout the watershed, and we celebrate the work that went into realizing this project.

Additional Project Team Partners: City of Highland Park, Hey and Associates, Inc., Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Lake County Stormwater Management Commission, Lake County Forest Preserve, Team REIL Inc.

Why We Care

Flowing and meandering through urban and suburban communities, forest preserves and parks, industrial and commercial districts, as well as the heart of downtown, the 156-mile long Chicago-Calumet River system connects millions of people to nature. It provides wildlife a place to live, considerable recreational opportunity, and an ever-increasing diversity of economic benefits derived from the waterfront.

As a result, the Chicago-Calumet River system is one of the best opportunities for improving quality of life for people who live and work in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. However, the pressure to develop the river’s edge creates potential to destroy the magic the river provides. It is critical to continue focusing on and emphasizing river friendly actions to protect the river system and its health.

Friends of the Chicago River developed Chicago River Blue awards campaign to educate, encourage, and reward creative projects that are closely aligned with our vision. More information about our priority best practices for river edge projects can be viewed in our Developer Resource Guide document.