Constituent Spotlight: Michael Taylor
River Advocate Fights To Reveal Beauty and Value of Community Waterways
While some activists search across the globe for ways to protect our natural resources, one 2nd Congressional District constituent is leading a crusade for clean waterways right here in the Chicago Southland.
Michael Taylor of Richton Park has been in love with the water from a young age. However, it wasn’t until he docked his powerboat and started kayaking that he noticed some environmental issues right in his backyard.
“You have a chance when you kayak to see different kinds of birds and turtles and plants. Then you see the garbage that you didn’t see before,” he said. “You become more aware of the environmental impacts of your activities because you’re in it.”
While others ignored these serious environmental concerns, Taylor took action. He volunteered to monitor the Little Calumet River and report back to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
The “Little Cal” is an arm of the Calumet River, running 41 miles through a number of local communities, including South Holland, Harvey and Lansing.
Since becoming a steward of the Little Cal, Taylor has organized annual clean-ups with the help of Openlands, a Chicago-based conservation group. Although he’s glad to see 50 to 75 volunteers each year, he has noticed one issue he would like to change.
“I’ve got people coming from the North Side and even Indiana, but I can’t get anybody that lives down the street,” Taylor said.
Taylor speculates the lack of Southside participation is due to residents’ attitudes towards the Little Cal.
“You take any river on the North Side and the houses face the river. There are river walks, and the houses in the area are worth more because of that. They know the value of this resource. But the Little Calumet River is just seen as a sewer,” he said.
That attitude is, in part, due to the river pollution. Taylor has spotted at least a dozen chemical barrels and dozens of tires along the banks. So while he’s working to clean up the river, he’s also trying to change the locals’ attitude towards the river by helping to show off its beauty.
Last spring Taylor took an important step towards realizing this goal by becoming certified as an American Canoe Association Kayak Instructor. The rigorous exam included three days of navigating the icy waters of Lake Michigan.
“I want to have an impact and put more African-Americans on the water. The only way to do that is through training. There is nobody else out here on the South Side. It’s impossible to find instructors. Now I’ve got the certification to teach. All I need now are some kayaks and a pool.”
Taylor’s conservation and education efforts were recognized in June when he was awarded the River Heroes Award, which honors waterway conservation leaders around the country. He received the award at the River Rally Conference in Pittsburgh. The annual conference, this year featuring environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., brings together grassroots river advocates working to protect and restore our nation’s waterways.
Despite Taylor’s volunteering efforts on the Little Calumet River and full-time job as an account executive for NORESCO, he felt a need to further express himself. After storing his kayak for the winter last year, Taylor began writing a book.
But what started as a narrative about his love of paddling turned into something more.
“It’s an open letter to my children about how I’m trying to give back as a servant, just a little bit. I’m not trying to save the world. I can’t save people from cancer or get rid of poverty and hunger, but this little thing I do on the river is my contribution. It’s my opportunity to be a servant and give back.”
His labor of love, an e-book titled City Paddler, is available on Amazon.
Meanwhile, Taylor continues his fight to keep the Little Cal clean. However, he can’t do it alone. For more information on how you can get involved in local waterway conservation or to contact Taylor, visit the Calumet Waterways website.