4-Jun-11 The Chicago River has made a surprising friend. Shortly before the downtown waterway spilled onto a list of most endangered rivers, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, a Wisconsin-based maker of hand crafted beers, announced a partnership with Friends of the Chicago River to help raise money to clean the river.
The Chicago River is #4 on a list of ten most endangered rivers of 2011 compiled last month by the conservation group American Rivers, which estimates 70 percent of the water in the Chicago River is wastewater. 1.2 billion gallons of undisinfected sewage, says the group, is dumped into the river every day.
While the company will not be donating money directly, it will invest time and effort into a long-term program to appeal to Leinenkugel customers at bars near the Chicago River and by using social media, websites, and email. The company has what it calls a fan base of 350,000 Leinie Lodge members, and many of them live in the Chicago area.
On July 9, the president of Leinenkugel Brewing, Thomas Jacob Leinenkugel, the fifth generation of Leinenkugel to run the company, and his two brothers will kick off Canoes for a Cause by floating down the Chicago River.
(Left) Jake Leinenkugel (at far right) with his brothers John (second from left) and Dick in 2006. At far left is their father, Bill Leinenkugel (1921-2008), who was president of the company from 1971 to 1986.
Besides raising money, the company will help educate the public and find out why the Chicago River is endangered, just as it did in Wisconsin, where Leinenkugels invested $250,000 over ten years tracking down a high rate of phosphorous in Little Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls.
With state and federal funding getting tight, Jake Leinenkugel says it is up to private companies to help public projects raise money, educate, and fix the problem.
It isnt as hard as what people think, said Leinenkugel in a telephone interview on Friday, because once you get private people involved, and work in concert with public organizations, governments, [Department of Natural Resources], things really start to happen. They hold each other accountable at the same time.
The connection between a Wisconsin beer maker and the Chicago River makes sense to Jake. Chicago was the companys first major expansion market outside of Wisconsin, and Jake himself has been working for more than 30 years to establish a presence for Leinenkugels in Chicago.
After looking for two years, the company spotted Friends of the Chicago River, an organization dedicated solely to the Chicago River.
It was something we truly believe in and its not going to be a short-term presence for us, he says. Were going to continue working with the Friends of the Chicago River in a multitude of different facets to expand the awareness of clean rivers...the importance of clean water, and singling out the Chicago River was just something that made sense to us and to the Friends of the Chicago River.
The executive director of Friends of the Chicago River says support from the company gets them closer to making real change. Wrote Margaret Frisbie in a recent news release, Were thrilled to be working with Leinenkugels toward our goal of building awareness and enthusiasm for a healthy Chicago River.
It could take years, says Jake, but they will get results. And, he says, Its the right thing to do. We all use this water system.
(Right) Volunteers participate in Chicago River Day in 2008. This year, Friends of the Chicago River estimates that on May 14 over three hours, 4,000 volunteers helped clean the river at 67 locations. Among them were loyal customers of Leinenkugels who formed their own team.