Despite the vocal objections of a number of taxpayers, the Civil War-era East Race Waterway was resurrected after being filled and leveled, an act that originally seemed to signal the end of its days. It’s now a commercial and competitive white water river course that runs straight through a bustling downtown.
The waterway was originally constructed in the 1840s to provide power to a sawmill for South Bend’s thriving manufacturing industry. After years of disuse, the channel was filled in, and as of the 1970s, the only traces of the former St. Joseph River outlet were the innocuous bridge railings that still stood 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 was modified and put to use by competitive white water kayakers. At that time, it was the only artificial whitewater course in North America.
Today, the waterway has fulfilled its purpose, and the area is once again a vibrant downtown space with the channel at its heart. It is now open to the public, and anyone can rent a vessel 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 day-tripping tourists can take advantage of the rough waters.