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Kayaking Experiences with Shedd Aquarium Open for the Season with New Offerings

Shedd’s “Kayak for Conservation” Will Help You Get Outside and See Nature on the Chicago River

June 11, 2020

Kayaker looks at greenery and local habitat on the Chicago River with the skyline in the background.

As the City of Chicago reopens businesses and outdoor recreation, Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program opens registration today for select audiences with the first kayaking experience taking place on June 17. The program, open to beginner to advanced kayakers, offers a suite of opportunities to discover wildlife living in the Chicago River ecosystem and participate in ongoing conservation projects alongside Shedd conservation experts. New this year are eco-tours focused on learning about the Chicago River as an ecosystem and home to wildlife, as well as the opportunity to book private paddling sessions for a small group.

“After three months of limiting our activities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many of us are eager to get out in nature,” said Jaclyn Wegner, director of conservation action at Shedd Aquarium. “Kayak for Conservation offers an opportunity to spend time outside on the Chicago River, spot wildlife and participate in conservation projects. We are excited to invite Chicagoans to join us on the river this summer to have fun and make a difference for the environment.”

Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program is an immersive kayaking experience focused on inspiring and empowering stewardship of the Chicago River. Participation in the program will give people the chance to learn about and support the creation of new, high-quality aquatic habitat, study biodiversity and contribute to scientific studies of the Chicago River led by Shedd Aquarium researchers. Through wildlife monitoring activities, participants are likely to see painted and red-eared slider turtles, multiple species of herons and ducks, honeybees, butterflies and more.

Running June 17 through September 30, Kayak for Conservation registration opens today for Shedd Aquarium members and will open June 15 for the general public. Those interested in securing early kayaking reservations can sign up to become a Shedd member online today and redeem other membership perks.

With two new offerings this year—eco-tours called River Discovery Tours and private group paddles—participants have more opportunities to explore the Chicago River at their own level of comfort. Additionally, Shedd Aquarium is offering participants the opportunity to pay what they can for their Kayak for Conservation experience of choice. While $35 remains the base cost per person for operating the program, price options range from $20 to $100. Participants’ generosity will help Shedd continue critical animal care and conservation work and help offset the financial impact of the aquarium’s ongoing closure, which went into effect on March 13 to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“After three months of limiting our activities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many of us are eager to get out in nature.”

Jaclyn Wegner, director of conservation action

2020 Kayak for Conservation experiences include:

Kayak for Conservation: River Discovery Tour

The newest offering in the suite of Kayak for Conservation experiences, the River Discovery Tour is 1.5-hour introductory paddling experience focused on the past, present and future of the Chicago River’s ecology, which has been shaped by human impacts. During this experience guided by Shedd’s conservation experts, you will gain knowledge of the importance of the Chicago River as habitat and how to help revitalize this resource for wildlife.

When: Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. | Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.

Program Duration: 1.5 hours

Price: Pay what you can between $20 and $100

Individual Registration: Online here

Kayak for Conservation: River Explorers

The River Explorers program is a 2-hour entry-level paddling experience focused on acquainting participants with the Chicago River, the threats it faces and ways to take action. Guided by Shedd conservation experts, you will engage in invertebrate surveys and litter monitoring. In the process, you’ll gain the knowledge to become an advocate for Chicago’s “blue-green corridor” while contributing important data to ongoing conservation research.

When: Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 a.m. | every other Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

Program Duration: 2 hours

Price: Pay what you can between $20 and $100

Individual Registration: Online here

Kayak for Conservation: River Monitors

The River Monitors program is for intermediate and advanced paddlers. It includes a 3-hour experience during which participants gain comprehensive knowledge of the Chicago River, with a deepened understanding of the river’s ecology. Guided by a Shedd conservation expert, you’ll learn and employ wildlife monitoring protocols that contribute critical data to conservation research that helps inform management to improve the health of the Chicago River.

When: Every other Friday and Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

Program Duration: 3 hours

Price: Pay what you can between $20 and $100

Individual Registration: Online here

Private Group Paddles

A private kayak experience is available for families and groups of up to eight people for a flat rate of $250. Choose from the River Discovery Tour or River Explorers for your group experience. Book online here.

Urban Outpost guests paddle the Chicago River in Kayaks, receiving a nature tour from Shedd experts.

During the experiences, participants will explore Shedd’s River Islands, custom-built floating habitats that provide shelter, food and other resources to native wildlife in the river ecosystem. Developed in partnership with environmental nonprofit Urban Rivers, Shedd’s River Islands contribute to the “Wild Mile” project—the first mile-long floating eco-park on the Chicago River.

Man-made floating habitats or islands like Shedd’s River Islands help improve the water quality of the Wild Mile and make a less trafficked section of the river serve as an oasis for wildlife and an immersive nature experience for people who visit. The islands host plant species that grow both above and below the water’s surface and feature several habitat structures intended to welcome wildlife.

Data collected around Shedd’s River Islands will contribute to an ongoing research project led by Shedd Aquarium Research Biologist Dr. Austin Happel, who is studying the presence of fish spawning around the islands to document how the islands are helping create habitats for local species. In 2019, Happel documented at least 10 species of fish spawning around the islands by collecting samples of larval fish (tiny baby fish!) at night.

Interested participants can sign up for Kayak for Conservation online at

For more information about Shedd Aquarium’s research on the Chicago River, visit Shedd’s website here.

VISUALS: High resolution photos are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium