East Race Waterway – South Bend, Indiana - Atlas Obscura
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South Bend, Indiana

East Race Waterway

The first man-made white water course in America cuts right through an Indiana city. 

Despite the vocal objections of a number of taxpayers, the Civil War-era East Race Waterway was resurrected after being filled and is now a commercial and competitive white water river course that runs straight through a bustling downtown.  

The East Race was originally constructed in the 1840s to a power saw mill for South Bend, Indiana’s thriving manufacturing industry. After years of disuse the channel was filled in and as of the 1970s the only trace of the former St. Joseph River outlet were innocuous bridge railings still standing among the failing downtown area. Then in 1978, with the support of the local mayor, a plan was put together to raise the canal from the dead as part of a grand revitalization plan for the area. By 1984, with the support of taxpayer dollars, the undead waterway had been modified to be used as a training course for whitewater kayakers in the Olympics. At that time it was the only man-made whitewater course in North America.

Today the waterway has fulfilled its purpose and the area is once again a vibrant downtown area with the channel at its heart. It is now open to the public who can rent rafts or canoes and attempt to sail the course themselves. The race is about 2,000 feet in length and takes only around five minutes to raft. Everyone from experienced kayakers to daytripping tourists take advantage of the waters and the downtown is now a far cry from its 1840s quietude. 


Know Before You Go

Open to the public, part of the river walk from Indiana University South Bend. Dog and bicycle friendly.