Agencies & partnerships

Your alderman, local chamber of commerce and Chicago Park District supervisors are good resources and can help point you in the right direction, recommend partnerships or help with permitting processes. Below is a list of additional city departments, organizations and agencies that you may need to contact during your planning process. The list includes information on permitting agencies, as well as organizations that host events on the riverfront and provide volunteer opportunities.

Chicago Park District

Who they are: The Chicago Park District works to enhance the quality of life in Chicago by providing recreation and leisure opportunities through creating safe, inviting and beautifully maintained parks and facilities. The Chicago Park District is responsible for issuing permits for any special event taking place in a Chicago Park.

Online resources:

For any special event hosted in a Chicago Park, an event permit application is required. Permit applications are only available online at the Chicago Park District’s website.

Interested in becoming more engaged with your local riverfront park? Work with the Chicago Park District to join or create a Park Advisory Council. Help your local park make the most of Park District’s programs and facilities. As a council member, you can help plan events and activities in your neighborhood’s park, increase public awareness about Park District projects, and be the voice of your local park to the Chicago Park District.

Or become a Nature Area Volunteer Steward


Visit the Chicago Park District’s website to learn more about Movies in the Parks or Concession Opportunities (using vendors or being a vendor).

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events

Who they are: The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events provides assistance and administers permits to neighborhoods interested in hosting community events, such as Farmers Markets and Neighborhood Festivals.

Online resources:

Permits are required for large events like neighborhood festivals. For more information on how to plan an event in your community, visit the DCASE website.

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is also managing the “The Year of Public Art”, which has grant opportunities to support neighborhood, youth, and public arts initiatives across the city.

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)

Who they are: The Chicago Department of Transportation is responsible for roadway safety and enforcement, cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure, and planning and permitting for transportation-related projects or events taking place in the street. CDOT is also the City of Chicago harbor master and has jurisdiction over the Chicago and Calumet rivers.

Online resources:

If you are holding an event on the streets and that requires streets to be closed, you will need a permit.

Look at CDOT’s current and future projects and initiatives for inspiration on transportation-related riverfront projects. Projects and initiatives include:

Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD)

Who they are: DPD’s Land Use Planning and Policy Division develops and implements citywide and neighborhood land use plans. The department is responsible for reviewing planned developments, lakefront protection applications and proposed zoning changes in industrial corridors.

Online resources:

Contact DPD if you have questions about the zoning or land use regulations that apply to your site.

DPD’s website is home to a number of Open Space and Sustainability Plans including:

The above planning documents provide information on the City’s projects, plans, and guidelines for development along Chicago’s riverfront, and can be used to inform future riverfront projects.

Friends Groups

Friends groups are non-profit organizations that help support and further efforts of natural and recreational areas such as parks, forest preserves, and rivers.


Friends of the Chicago River

Who they are: Friends of the Chicago River is dedicated to improving and protecting the Chicago River for a variety of recreational uses and to provide quality habitats for native plants, fish and other wildlife.

Online resources:

Visit the Friends of the Chicago River website for more information on how to get involved, including volunteer and advocacy opportunities, events, and educational programs.Learn more about Overflow Action Days, and how water conservation keeps our water clean during stormwater overflows.

Friends of the Parks

Who they are: Friends of the Parks is a non-profit organization working to preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of parks and open spaces in Chicago. The city is home to 8,100 acres of parks and playgrounds and Friends of the Parks advocates for preservation, expansion and improvement of these spaces. Friends of the Parks awards grants to Park Advisory Councils (PAC) and organizes quarterly PAC networking meetings.

Online resources:

Visit the Friends of the Parks website to learn more about how to get involved by volunteering, becoming a Friends of the Park member or joining an event.

Chicago Parks Foundation

Who they are: The Chicago Parks Foundation “provides financial and program support for Chicago parks.” The Chicago Parks Foundation offers many services and programs to Chicago Parks, such as fiscal sponsorship for Park Advisory Councils, tree and bench dedication, restoration, and recreational and stewardship programming.

Online resources:

Visit the Chicago Parks Foundation website to learn more about fiscal partnership for PACs.

Chicago Harbor Safety Committee

Who they are: The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee provides a forum for public and private sector marine stakeholders to work together towards ensuring that Chicago’s waterways remain safe, efficient and sustainable for recreational and economic growth.

Online resources:

If you are doing any recreation in or on the water, consult the guidelines recently published by the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD)

Who they are: MWRD is responsible for protecting the quality of the region’s water supply source (Lake Michigan), protecting businesses and homes from flood damage, and managing water as a resource. Some MWRD land is leased for public use to municipalities. Groups looking to host an event on MWRD-owned land should contact the tenant municipality for approval, then contact MWRD, who will review and determine if a permit is needed.

Online resources:

Visit here to see land owned by MWRD and how it is categorized.

Learn more about Overflow Action Days, and how water conservation keeps our water clean during stormwater overflows. This is a joint initiative of MWRD and Friends of the Chicago River.

Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO) was developed to lessen the negative impacts of stormwater runoff from new upstream developments. It applies to all developments within Cook County (excluding the City of Chicago)  

Forest Preserves of Cook County

Who they are: The Forest Preserves of Cook County acquires, restores and manages land for the purpose of protecting public open spaces including forests, wetlands, rivers, and streams. The Forest preserve is responsible for the management of 40 managed lakes and ponds, 7 major waterways, and native wetlands.

Online resources:

Information on available event facilities, permit and tag requirements, and forest preserve memberships can be found on the Forest Preserves’ website. Permit applications for picnics, events and camping can be purchased online. Become a Forest Preserve Volunteer or join a Forest Preserve Stewardship Group.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Who they are: The Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages numerous programs and facilities in order to conserve and protect Illinois’ natural, recreational and cultural resources including the following:

  • Coastal Management Program - Grant opportunity for sustainable coastal planning, environmental education, and outreach.
  • Community Outreach and Educational Programs
  • Land Management Programs for 329 state-owned and leased parks, forests, trails and natural areas
  • Law Enforcement Programs to protect the State’s natural resources
  • Realty and Environmental Planning to manage land acquisitions
  • Resource Conservation Programs to issue fishing and hunting licenses
  • Water Resources Programs to oversee the allocation of water from Lake Michigan

Online resources:

If you plan to hold a one-time event (or an event only occurring one time per year) on the water, please contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If the activity meets the terms and conditions of the SW-14 permit then it is considered permitted.  

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Who they are: The Army Corps of Engineers provides water resource development in the Chicago metropolitan area. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for a variety of projects, including:

  • Flood risk management and storm damage reduction
  • Aquatic restoration
  • Emergency management
  • Shoreline protection

If you are proposing to construct, operate or maintain any structure, or dredge, fill or otherwise alter the bed or banks of any stream, lake, wetland, floodplain or floodway, your project is likely subject to State or Federal regulatory jurisdiction. You should visit the Army Corps of Engineers website to determine if agency approval is required.

Online resources:

You may be required to work with the Army Corps of Engineers during your planning process if you are proposing changes to the riverfront. The Army Corps of Engineers conducts reviews or projects and provides permission, depending on the type of project proposed. The Army Corps of Engineers website outlines Illinois Regulatory Programs, including Jurisdictional Determination Information, Permit Applications, and Application Instructions.

Through their Planning Assistance to States program, the Army Corps of Engineers can provide states, local governments and other non-Federal entities assistance in the preparation of comprehensive plans for the development, utilization, and conservation of water and related land resources.

Click here to determine if restoration or mitigation efforts are necessary for your project.

U.S. Coast Guard

Who they are: As part of the Department of Homeland Security, the US Coast Guard ensures our maritime safety, security and stewardship. Tasks carried out by the Coast Guard include:

  • Issuing permits for in-water (marine) events
  • Inspecting commercial vessels
  • Conducting pollution investigations
  • Conducting waterfront facility exams for compliance with federal regulations

Online resources:

The Chicagoland area is served by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary District Nine - Western Region, Division 35 at Station Calumet Harbor.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s guide for regatta and marine parade permitting offers broader information about what types of events need permitting, and which do not. The useful links page contains links to download event permits and information about waterway management. Division 35 conducts boating education classes, vessel safety checks and much more. Visit the Division 35 Public area website to learn about safe boating, vessel safety checks, or permitting of Private Aids to Navigation.

Click here for Division 35 Contact and Meeting Information.

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