Chicago River Day 2011

Yesterday I got up early, had a hot breakfast and headed over to Bubbly Creek @ 35th & Iron Streets to help with the Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago River Day. Our mission was to pick up trash from the banks of the Chicago River and report any interesting wildlife. The groups website estimates that 4000 people cleaned up 67 sites. Our team had about 18 people including our site Captain, Gina Hutchings who works in a building that faces Bubbly Creek and participated in the clean up last year.

As some of you may know “Bubbly Creek” got it’s name from conditions that existed for decades in where butchers in the stock yards nearby would dump organic slurry into the Chicago River and it would ferment and bubble. It was a phenomenon chronicled by Upton Sinclair in a newspaper and eventually published as the book, “The Jungle”. Decades later the river still has an off smell from the raw sewerage being pumped in to this day.

After a brief pep talk and rules of the road we broke up into smaller groups and with trash bags in hand spent the next few hours picking up all the litter along the banks of the Chicago River. Items that were too big or too sharp to place in a bag were gathered in a pile next to the filled garbage bags for the City to pick up later. Unfortunately, we did not have any tools to pluck garbage from the water so while the banks were left fairly clean, the water’s edge was covered with debris.

The weather was cold and gloomy, but the rain held off until after we were done. We found many peculiar pieces of trash including a huge amount of band saws that were apparently dumped there, but on the bright side we also found a pint bottle “terrarium”, a metal drain plug with a sapling growing in it and a few morel mushrooms. Gina called the morels the safest in Illinois as no one would want to eat it given the toxic nature of the river.

In a way it was depressing because is seems that much of the garbage we were picking up came from workers in the nearby businesses who ate lunch in the parking, dumped their trash and it eventually blew over to the river. It’s cleaner now, but Summer is near and they probably won’t have developed any consideration for our river. I guess we’ll have our work cut out for us next year.

Fifteen down and 35 more to go!