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September 18, 2003





            One summer day many years ago, crowds of Chicagoans lined the banks of the Chicago River.  Swimming star Johnny Weismuller (later known as “Tarzan”) was competing in a swimming race from the Columbia Yacht Club through Downtown to Madison Street.


            The outcome of that meet isn’t known, but as Weismuller stroked through the water, who could have foreseen the changes experienced by the Chicago River.  From swimming pool to cesspool, the Chicago River is now returning to a cleaner state.


            Thirty years ago, Mayor Richard J. Daley declared his vision of cleaning up the Chicago River so downtown workers could go fishing on their lunch break and grill their catch on the riverbank.  Happily, we are moving closer to the Mayor’s dream than away from it.


Since the city’s origins, the Chicago River has been a port, sewer and lately, recreational attraction.  As a vital link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, it has moved commerce for centuries.  The Chicago River’s role in our area’s growth is profound.  Indeed, the name “Chicago” is derived from a wild onion which once flourished along the riverbanks.  Our River’s impact is felt far beyond its Cook County banks.  After all, what goes into the Chicago River ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.


And now, as the Chicago River’s water quality improves, new condos dot the banks, the diversity of fish species has blossomed and herons are commonplace.  Recently, more than 800 canoeists and kayakers competed in the Chicago River “Flatwater Classic”, among the largest urban paddling races in the world.  The colorful spectacle of hundreds of kayaks and canoes oaring through Downtown was once unthinkable.


Once again, the Chicago River is reinventing itself and it’s up to us to redefine our relationship with it.  A Native American proverb states, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  That must be the guiding principle of our stewardship of this ever-changing gem.


            Broad citizen participation is needed to protect this resource that is so much a part of our heritage.  That is why the Office of Illinois Lieutenant Governor and Friends of the Chicago River are hosting the “1st Annual Chicago River Summit”, Saturday, September 27, 9:00 a.m., at Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans, Chicago (overlooking historic Wolf Point).


            At this groundbreaking summit, we’ll explore ways to achieve our goal of making the Chicago River “swimmable and fishable” by 2020.  Experts and river enthusiasts will address water quality, dam removal, recreation and economic development issues.  We’ll hear innovative ideas for future uses of the River, such as creation of a “Chicago River Trail” and conversion of some areas into wetlands.


Diverse voices must be heard from at the Summit.  Everyone from barge operators to bird watchers is expected to participate.  A public comment period is included so anyone can share their ideas or concerns directly with public officials and policymakers.  The Chicago River Summit is free.  To register, call the Lieutenant Governor’s Office at 312-814-5220.  And if you’re unable to attend, please e-mail your questions or ideas to chicagoriversummit@ltgov.state.il.us.


We made history a century ago when the river’s flow was reversed.  We can make history again with an unprecedented grassroots movement to make the Chicago River swimmable and fishable by 2020, and the Chicago River Summit on September 27 is a big step in the right direction.




Pat Quinn                                    

Illinois Lieutenant Governor 



Laurene von Klan

Executive Director, Friends of the Chicago River



(As Lieutenant Governor, Quinn is Chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council, which is responsible for coordinating public and private funding for restoration of the Illinois River watershed, including the Chicago River.  Von Klan is Executive Director of Friends of the Chicago River, a not-for-profit group founded in 1979 to protect the Chicago River. She also serves on the Illinois River Coordinating Council.)



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