Roosevelt Sustainability Students Tour Bubbly Creek

On an unseasonably warm October weekend afternoon, more than twenty students from SUST 210 The Sustainable Future, SUST 220 Water, and PLS 391 Seminar in the Natural Sciences embarked on a canoe trip of Bubbly Creek organized with the aid and expertise of Friends of the Chicago River.

Bubbly Creek, infamously called “Chicago’s Great Open Sewer” by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle, was used for more than a century by the slaughterhouses as a sink for the wastes of millions of slaughtered animals during the era when Chicago was the center of American meatpacking. Even forty years after the Union Stockyards closed up shop in Chicago, sulfur and methane from the decaying matter in the water continues to bubble to the surface.

Despite the waterway’s infamous past, it lies almost unnoticed beneath the Stevenson expressway. This field trip acquainted students with Bubbly Creek’s past uses, its present condition, and some possible ways the heavily industrialized body of water might be managed in the future. Students spent more than two hours canoeing Bubbly Creek, learning about how humans have altered it in an experience more visceral than simply hearing about it in a classroom (or, for that matter, reading about it online).

Once everyone was safely back on land, we conducted a series of water quality tests to assess the pH level, turbidity, and presence of fecal coliforms in Bubbly Creek. Between the testing and the canoeing, we discussed and experienced up close many of the issues facing the Chicago River and Lake Michigan in an era when the outgoing mayor has mentioned the possibility of re-reversing the flow of the Chicago River. Several students spent the first canoeing experience of their lives on this field trip.

Field trips such as this one are an important part of Roosevelt University’s Sustainability Studies curriculum. We aim to explore the Chicago area’s environments in order to better understand them and work to make them more sustainable. If you are interested in this kind of education, find out more by visiting our Sustainability Studies website, calling 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or emailing

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