One experience every paddler should have at some point is an up-close view of the annual dyeing of the Chicago River.

Since 1962 the river has been dyed green at 9:00 am on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. The Plumbers Union Local 130 adds an orange biodegradable vegetable dye to the water to create the fluorescent shade of green. For those who say “why dye it, the river is always green”, you’ve never seen green water quite like this.

The paddle is not for the faint of heart. It’s a raucous affair with every tour boat coming out for the event. Add in private power boats, numerous police and Coast Guard boats, and many kayaks in an environment with sheer walls and no easy bailout points and you’ve got to be on your toes the entire time.

The actual dyeing takes about 45 minutes and is performed by several small boats running up and down a 2 block stretch of the river starting at Michigan Avenue and progressing inland. The vibrant green dye job lasts only about 5 hours.


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