Chicago Sun Times: ELPC’s Jessica Dexter Says Swimming in the Chicago River May Come Sooner Than Later

Swimming the Chicago River: Coming Much Sooner Rather than Later
March 10, 2017
By Dale Bowman

As Capt. Pat Harrison launched on the Sanitary and Ship Canal in September, he said, “Whenever I played by the river, my mother would say, `Whatever you do, don’t touch the water, you will get polio,’ It blows my mind to catch fish where my mother said not to touch the water.”

That’s primary contact.

Decades ago, Harrison swam off the abutment by the “Jackknife Bridge,” just downstream of the Daley Launch.

I grew up swimming creeks where Holstein cows were pooping. Who am I to wonder why people want to swim in the Chicago River?

With curiosity as much as anything on Thursday, I attended the 2017 Chicago River Summit, “Swimming the Distance: How Do We Get from Here to There?’’ put on by Friends of the Chicago River at MillerCoors on the east side of the South Branch at Jackson.

I expected the pipe dream of do-gooders. It was much more. Public swimming in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) will be here. Very soon.

“It turned from an `if’ to a `how-and-now’ conversation,’’ said Richard Wilson, city design director, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, during the closing panel.

That’s key: Swimming is here for CAWS.

The holdup isn’t water quality, but the mechanics of swimming an urban waterway and public perception.

On mechanics, Jessica Dexter, attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, began her presentation, “When I started a decade ago, giving a talk on swimming would have gotten me laughed out of the room. Swimming does not seem so far-fetched anymore.’’

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