The Chicago River is one of the city’s true gems.
From the newly revamped riverwalk to the tradition of dying the river green every St. Patrick’s Day, it’s certainly nothing short of picturesque.
Yet you’d have to be an absolute daredevil to venture into the water. That’s because it’s notoriously dirty. Not as bad as it once was, but nothing you want to swim in.
Doug McConnell and Don Macdonald are trying to change that perception by organizing a 2.4-mile open swim from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood to the riverwalk at the Clark St. bridge. Originally slated for this fall to showcase how clean the water has become, the swim has been delayed by the city for at least one year because the water is still too dirty for the public to enjoy.
Per the Associated Press:
The open swim is intended as a celebration of how much the water quality in the river has improved since the 1970s due to numerous restoration efforts, McConnell said. Chicago hosted a series of competitive swims to showcase the newly clean river after the river’s direction was reversed in 1900.
"Now we've come full circle," McConnell said. "The river is once again clean, so let's celebrate that."
Thomas Minarik, an aquatic biologist with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, said the water quality in the river has improved but that it could still harbor dangerous bacteria.
Plans nixed for a 2.4 mile swim in the Chicago River, where the city dumps sewage almost every time it rains.— Michael Hawthorne (@scribeguy) July 21, 2019
Along the Riverwalk, where the race would have ended, levels of fecal bacteria have spiked more than 4x higher than state standards this year. https://t.co/m00NuU30Up pic.twitter.com/DfIE6BOvBt
McConnell is used to swimming in dangerous waters. The Chicago Sun-Times notes he’s “an open-water swimming expert and has swum all around the world, including in the English Channel and New York’s Hudson River.”
Still, jumping into the Chicago River doesn’t seem like the most enticing idea at the moment, even as McConnell’s intentions are more pure than the water itself.
He hopes to use the race to raise money for ALS research as well as supporting Make A Splash — which provides free swim classes to underprivileged children.
There’s no question the swim sounds like a cool idea. It just might require some more pushing, prodding and patience to get the river clean enough to dive into.
For now that means delaying the race a year in hopes that it can take place in September 2020. Going in any sooner could put swimmers in a pretty crappy situation.
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