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Clean up trash and restore ecosystems along the Chicago River at weekend event

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Thousands volunteer at the Chicago River Clean Up Day and remove tons of trash.

A black-crowned heron perched near the Chicago River.

The Chicago River Day is an annual clean-up event and will kick off on Saturday, May 11. For the past 27 years thousands of volunteers come out every season to help restore the shoreline and make it habitable for wildlife. This year focused volunteers will work 65 sites along the river and biologists will analyze trash from seven locations.

Parts of Chicago River are extremely polluted and volunteers at the Friends of Chicago River event have pulled out shopping carts, mattresses, and plastic bags. All of that garbage hurts wildlife habitats for 70 species of fish, birds like herons or purple martins, beavers, and turtles.

New this year is a project that will analyze trash from seven locations including river sites near Ping Tom Memorial Park, Horner Park and the East Bank Club. The analysis will help scientists understand what ends up in the river and figure out ways to reduce it. While more unusual items like tires or car parts end up in the river, the majority of the garbage if from plastic wrappers or disposable packaging. After the litter is collected, it’ll go to the Waste Management facility on Goose Island.

“There has been significant improvement in water quality and the general health of the river,” Margaret Frisbie, Friends of the Chicago River executive director said. “But litter remains a stubborn problem. Chicago River Day volunteers haul thousands of pounds of trash from the river and highlight how much work still needs to be done to make the river system all it can be.”

If you’d like to register to volunteer, find a location on the map and sign up. Some activities at your site could include sorting trash for recycling, removing invasive plant species, or sprucing up the river’s edge with native seedlings. Plus, after working from 9 a.m. to noon, head to after-parties at Metropolitan Brewing Company and Blue Island Beer Company.