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State

City puts plans for open-water swim in Chicago River on hold

A lone pedestrian crosses the Chicago River on Jan. 30.
A lone pedestrian crosses the Chicago River on Jan. 30.

CHICAGO – Efforts to organize an open-water swim in the Chicago River this fall will be delayed by at least a year.

Doug McConnell said convincing the departments of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Transportation and Fleet and Facility Management, among others, to permit swimming in the water was tougher than he expected.

McConnell and Don Macdonald wanted to organize a 2.4-mile open-water swim in the Chicago River in September. But the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events informed the team last week that the swim would need to be postponed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The new target for the swim, from Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown and ending at the Clark Street Bridge in the Loop, is September 2020. McConnell said there was some confusion about who could give them the green light.

“What we’re asking for is pretty atypical,” McConnell said. “Because it hasn’t been done for nearly 100 years, there isn’t a defined path that you’re supposed to take to get something like this approved.”

The open-swim is intended as a celebration of how much the water quality in the river has improved since the 1970s because of 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 it still could harbor dangerous bacteria.

“There’s always going to be a risk,” he said. “There’s a reason why people chlorinate their pools on a regular basis.”

McConnell said organizers will use the extra time to arrange sponsors, as the event could cost about $150,000. He hopes companies with buildings along the river and those with environmental interests will support the swim.

He also hopes the swim could become an annual event.

The organizers plan to use the swim to raise money for research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as Make A Splash, which provides swimming classes for children.

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