Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taking Plunge on Behalf of the St. Johns; River's Health Improving, and Area Celebrities Dive in to Prove the Point

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taking Plunge on Behalf of the St. Johns; River's Health Improving, and Area Celebrities Dive in to Prove the Point

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

About a dozen First Coast celebrities took the plunge into the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville on Saturday to point out the health of the waterway is getting better.

More than 100 onlookers watched from the city's boat dock.

It was part of the River Ruckus that took place most of Saturday near the Riverside Arts Market under the Fuller Warren Bridge. It featured a flotilla of kayaks and canoes, standup paddleboard lessons and the celebrity jump into the river about 12:30 p.m. All the river activity was an effort to show that the water quality is improving.

"It felt great, and it was really refreshing," said Tony Allegretti, director of downtown engagement for the JAX Chamber and one of the celebrities who took the plunge.

Allegretti said more and more people are coming near the St. Johns in downtown Jacksonville. But most don't think about the resource the water provides.

"We've noticed an uptick for river access, people on the Riverwalk and on the bridges. But a large percentage of downtown is water. And there's not a lot of people out on it and not a lot of people enjoying it. This is a great opportunity to highlight how awesome it is, and more people will take advantage of it," Allegretti said.

Jim Alabiso, executive director of JumpingFish, a long-distance open-water swimming organization and aquatic preservation group, helped to organize the event and took part in the celebrity jump. He said area residents need to realize the river is on the rebound after generations of pollution.

"The river's going through quite a few years of recovery since the [federal] Clean Water Act [was instituted] 40 years ago," Alabiso said. "We just want to let people know that the river is OK to go out and do some recreation and take a dip, get in a canoe, get in a kayak, spend some time on the water. …

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