African American Heritage Water Trail

Tags: Attend, Urban Canoe Adventures, River education, Centennial Volunteers, and Canoe Program

The African American Heritage Water Trail memorializes the remarkable stories of African Americans who utlized and settled along the Calumet River: freedom seekers who traveled the Underground Railroad, trailblazers who defied discrimination, learned to fly, and became Tuskegee Airmen, and pioneers in the struggle for civil rights and environmental justice. These stories of courage and fortitude have shaped our nation. Friends was honored to work with Openlands to recognize this historical area, we took them out while they were putting the trail together, and now we are partnering again to introduce the trail to you!

We will stop briefly at the oldest black-owned marina in the Chicago region built in the 1950s for African American families and boaters who experienced discrimination at other marinas. The current owner continues to honor the unique history of the property which sits on part of the former Ton Farm Underground Railroad site.

We will also see the Dolton Bridge where hundreds of freedom seekers crossed the river on their way to Canada via Chicago or Detroit. Abolitionists George Dolton and his sons built a ferry in 1836, followed a few years later by a bridge. In the decades before the Civil War, roughly one third of the freedom seekers who came into the Chicago and Calumet regions traveled on foot and by wagon and coach, using the ferry and bridges. 

If you can't make this trip, you can experience this history from the perspective of the river by visiting the Calumet section of for information about how and where to paddle the trail. You can also download an Openlands African American Water Trail brochure by clicking here.

This trip was filled in minutes and is currently at capacity. However, you can get on the waitlist and we will contact you should a spot open or if another trip is planned. Get on the waitlist here.