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Volunteer for Chicago River Day

May 14 will mark the 30th annual Chicago River Day, a spring litter cleanup and restoration event hosted by Friends of the Chicago River, taking place from 9 a.m. to noon. The celebration draws thousands of volunteers every year to work in and along the river system at nearly 70 greater Chicagoland locations throughout the watershed. Cleanups are scheduled at locations along the Chicago River system, from Lake County to the Calumet region and southwest to Summit, Palos and beyond. Advanced registration is required.

This volunteer-driven event began in 1992 as Chicago River Rescue Day, reflecting the dire environmental state of the river 30 years ago and has grown into becoming the largest and most popular Friends of the Chicago River volunteer event each year. Since 1992, volunteers have removed 1.9 million pounds of litter and invasive plant material from the river and its banks as well as tributaries and forest preserves.

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

Friends Executive Director Margaret Frisbie states, “When Chicago River Day began 30 years ago, fishing, paddling and accessible open space on the Chicago River system were novel ideas, and swimming was unthinkable.” Now the Chicago River system is healthier than it has been in 150 years and it is alive with people and wildlife. There is more work to do to address the continued impacts of sewage, stormwater pollution and the climate crisis, but people are awakening to an understating of the river as a valuable natural resource and springing into action to improve and protect it. Litter remains a problem. Over the last 30 years, volunteers have removed garbage, thus restoring riverbanks and open spaces for a litter-free Chicago-Calumet river system.

Each year, Friends features a river animal as part of Chicago River Day to help connect us to the many different animals that rely on people to care for and protect the river system. This year’s featured animal is the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii).

For more information and to volunteer, visit