One of the nation’s most ardent group of New Years Day paddlers, who regularly turn off the simmering black-eyed peas to ring in the new year by paddling the Windy City’s North Branch of the Chicago River, had to break with tradition this year due to the recent cold snap sweeping the nation…
Helping whacko Chicagoans regularly brave the elements to hit the waterway every New Year’s Day, the event was founded in 1985 by none other than famed canoe historian Ralph Frese. This year’s New Year’s Day Canoe Paddle would have marked a whopping two decades of the annual, bone-chilling float.
“We were very disappointed to have had to cancel it, but conditions on the Chicago River deteriorated quickly the day before the event,” says Don Parker of the Forest Preserve District, which co-organizes the event. “Significant portions of the river iced over, especially around put-ins and take-outs, making them unusually hazardous. Given that this winter event already carries a degree of risk even when river conditions are good, the Forest Preserves and the Illinois Paddling Council agreed that it was prudent to err on the side of caution and public safety and call it off.”
“Hopefully we’ll have a better report next year.”
Hosted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County with help from the Illinois Paddling Association and Prairie State Canoeists, the free event is open to experienced paddlers of all walks and is a ritual for countless canoeists. “I’ve joined in the New Year’s paddle twice and it’s one of my favorite events that I look forward to every year,” says FPCC president Toni Preckwinkle. “Despite the obvious challenges of gearing up on a cold New Year’s morning, it attracts hundreds of hardy folks. Winding through wooded winter preserves is the perfect way to start the year with a fresh perspective.”
The event draws nearly 300 people each year, all with the same goal of hitting the water while most other people’s canoes and kayaks are gathering dust in the garage. The paddle begins below the Skokie Lagoons and finishes four miles later in Linne Woods. The only caveats are that participants must bring their own boats and PFDs and dress in appropriate paddlesports apparel (all participants get checked for proper clothing and equipment before launching).
Paddling from Winnetka, east of the Edens, to the Linne Woods Canoe Access in Morton Grove, the event includes shuttles and a warm up celebration afterwards with hot beverages, a snack and fire. “It’s a great way to start the year off,” says Preckwinkle. “It can be a bit chilly sometimes, but that’s Chicago in the winter.”
For information on next year’s float, visit HERE