Be Part of Change by Learning History on the African American Heritage Water Trail
Connecting the past to the present is critical for our understanding how our rivers are central to our community. Friends is proud to be one of the early partners to collaborate with Openlands to create the African American Heritage Water Trail in the Calumet region which was featured recently in a New York Times story titled “52 Places for a Changed World”. Our work to facilitate paddles with local partners created opportunities for people to experience the trail safely from the water, and still does.
The Times’ feature list highlights places worldwide where “endangered wildlands are being preserved, threatened species are being protected, historical wrongs are being acknowledged, fragile communities are being bolstered – and where travelers can be part of the change.”
The seven-mile African American Heritage Water Trail highlights nearly two centuries of stories about African Americans who fought for freedom and equality. The Little Calumet River ties these stories together, starting with the freedom seekers who used the Underground Railroad to find shelter at Ton Farm. One of few documented stops on the Underground Railroad, the Ton Farm is now home to Chicago’s Finest Marina, the oldest black-owned marina in the Chicago region which was built in the 1950s for African American families and boaters who experienced discrimination at other marinas.
“It’s wonderful to see the water trail spotlighted to reader across the country,” said Friends’ Volunteer and Events Coordinator Annette Anderson who organizes canoe paddles along the water trail. “There is such a rich history along the Calumet River, and so many stories of remarkable African American courage, perseverance, and dedication to justice. It’s was an honor to work with Openlands to launch the inaugural paddle on the water trail in 2020 and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with them and people from the Calumet community.”
The Little Calumet is designated as an intermediate level for paddlers. Beginner paddlers should travel with experienced guides for safety. People can visit the sites by car too. A brochure detailing the African American Heritage Water Trail is available to download here.