Connecting with Nature in Observance of Black History Month

The Little Calumet River flows through beautiful Kickapoo Woods in south suburban Riverdale.

As we approach the observance of Black History Month in February, it is helpful to connect the past to the present to recognize the remarkable contributions of African Americans to our country, and nature offers a good path of reflection.

One wondrous place of reflection is Whistler Woods along the Little Calumet River in south suburban Riverdale. The 137-acre forest preserve is part of the historic Major Taylor Trail named for Marshall “Major” Taylor, who was an African American champion bicycle racer and civil rights advocate who won races around the world from 1896 to 1910.

Friends of the Chicago River has been active at Whistler Woods for many years through Chicago River Day, Centennial Volunteers, River Action Days and more programs that improve the health of the Little Calumet and this river-edge forest preserve.  

Throughout February, our partners at the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the Chicago Park District are also offering several opportunities to celebrate Black History Month including Underground Railroad walks at the Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland and community celebrations at local parks.

Friends is also proud to be one of the early partners to collaborate with Openlands to create the African American Heritage Water Trail in the Calumet region. Our work helps facilitate paddles with local partners to create opportunities for people to experience the unique trail safely from the water. The seven-mile water trail highlights nearly two centuries of stories about African Americans who fought for freedom and equality. The water trail begins at Beaubien Woods and promotes the exploration of 29 significant African American sites along the river and inland between Beaubien Woods and the Village of Robbins. The Little Calumet River ties these stories together, starting with the freedom seekers who used the Underground Railroad to find shelter at Ton Farm, which is part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom registry.

You can learn more about Whistler Woods, the Major Taylor Trail, Beaubien Woods, Kickapoo Woods, and the African American Heritage Trail on our Inside, Out & About podcast interview with Friends 2016 Spirit of the River honoree June Webb and Gloria Orozco with Friends of the Forest Preserves, and Brenda Dixon with the Major Taylor Trail Keepers.   

We encourage you to experience these important sites and celebratory events.