Kayaking the Wild Mile Chicago River watercolor

watercolor sketch of the Wild Mile - Chicago River by kayak
watercolor sketch of the Wild Mile – Chicago River

Yesterday I had the opportunity to kayak the Chicago River at the Wild Mile. What is the Wild Mile? It’s a stretch of the Chicago River that is actively being restored by installing floating native gardens along the river’s edge. Without these floating gardens, organisms cannot thrive. They do not have shelter from the sun, nor a habitat to feed and breed. A healthy freshwater ecosystem has trees (shade from the sun), floating wood debris (shelter and food for organisms), leaves (food), and a diverse array of organisms above the water and below. This could not happen with the original construction of the Chicago River which was walled in concrete. According to the Kayak Chicago staff, in the 1970’s there were only 5 species of fish found in the Chicago River. After the Clean Water Act of 1972 was instated, people thought differently about dumping pollutants into the river. As of 2016, a study found 27 species of fish in the Chicago River. Things are moving in the right direction.

The Wild Mile is not finished yet. More floating native wet gardens are being installed slowly but surely. With the addition of these gardens, I’m sure the species count will skyrocket.

Yesterday I was able to spot: a belted-kingfisher bird (Megaceryle alcyon) dive for food, five red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking in the sun, an unknown hawk species above the floating gardens, nests from cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), one unknown dragonfly, several Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos).

floating native wetland garden along the Chicago River

Here is an up close view of garden #3. I think I recognized button bush from a distance.

native grasses and coconut husks visible near the water

Here is another section of floating garden where you can visibly see the coconut husks used to propagate the plants.

Chicago River

Bright blue skies over downtown provided this beautiful view from my kayak.

my yellow kayak

This was the first time I have ever entered a kayak in deep waters. I’m used to sitting in the kayak on the shore and scooting my way into the water. The staff of Kayak Chicago taught us how to enter off a dock in deep water. Basically, feet first, hold on the kayak tightly with your hands, and swing your butt in. They also held my kayak so that it wouldn’t swing away…only try this if you have trained staff to help you.

Kayak Chicago offers tours in several locations. This location was at 1220 W LeMoyne Street, Chicago, IL 60642. Go there if you would like to see the Wild Mile too!

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