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Would You Swim In The Chicago River? Long-Distance Swim Proposed

By Justin Breen | February 23, 2017 2:47pm | Updated on February 28, 2017 11:41am
 Garbage floats on top of the Chicago River.
Garbage floats on top of the Chicago River.
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Flickr Creative Commons/simbachicago

CHICAGO — A long-distance swimming event in the Chicago River has been proposed by a veteran outdoor swimmer.

Don Macdonald, who has guided swims around Manhattan Island and also participated in several urban swimming events, would like to swim from Ping Tom Park in Chinatown to the Main Stem of the Chicago River Downtown sometime this year.

"In general we have proposed restarting the 1908 Illinois Athletic Club marathon river swim and began these discussions with the city and other regulating bodies," Macdonald wrote in an email.

The proposal for a Chicago River open-water swim helped prompt the topic of swimming for the 2017 Chicago River Summit, which takes place March 9.

"We realized it was necessary to create a forum for a conversation about what it really means to swim in the Chicago River and what changes to infrastructure, protocols, culture and water quality are still needed," Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie told DNAinfo.

Next month's summit led by Friends of the Chicago River and sponsored by MillerCoors "will lead water quality experts, policy advocates and urban swimming champions in a dialogue about the feasibility of swimming in the Chicago River system," Frisbie said.

"For many people, it was unimaginable that anyone would swim in Chicago River, but new water quality standards ... means that swimming is not that far away," Frisbie said.

Macdonald said the quest to swim long distance in the Chicago River was inspired by the 11 people who last year jumped into the Cal-Sag Channel, part of the Chicago River system.

Swimming races in the Chicago River, including the 1908 event Macdonald referred to, were popular in the early 20th century, according to Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Although technically it's legal to swim in the Chicago River, there are no public access points for swimmers.

The Chicago River Summit will include presentations on open-water swimming and public access in the Hudson River in New York City and the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., according to a news release. Plus it will feature "water quality findings from Argonne National Laboratory ‘s tests in the Chicago River system over the past two years."

For more information on the noon-4:30 p.m. summit, click here. Tickets can be purchased here.