Friends of the Chicago River, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979, envisions a Chicago River lined with homes, parks, cafes, canoe launches, thriving businesses, quiet spots, natural habitats, and historic sites. To make that vision reality, the river needs increased attention, beautification and a good cleaning every now and again.
River Rescue Day was conceived six years ago as one of the many strategies to revitalize the Chicago River. River Rescue Day not only cleans the river and its banks, it raises awareness about the river. The success of the program is evidenced by its rapid growth—from 30 people at one site in 1992, to more than 1,200 volunteers at 35 sites in 1998.
Volunteers are involved in all aspects of River Rescue Day. Site Captains mobilize and supervise clean-up efforts. Volunteers collect trash from the riverbanks and in the river itself, organize a post-cleanup picnic at a river-edge park and take picnic goers on canoe trips on the river. Businesses, government agencies and organizations donate cash and in-kind support.
River Rescue Day is made possible by people who, in survey, often cited that their main reason for participating was "to make a difference." Many of these volunteers revisit their sites between Rescue Days, acting as unofficial river-edge stewards and becoming active River Advocates throughout the year.
An estimated total of more than 70 tons of trash has been collected by River Rescue Day volunteers over the years. The event draws more than 1,200 volunteers.