The Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau was incorporated in 1984 to service the communities along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The Bureau is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of leaders in the tourism industry from the four areas serviced by the Bureau. The Bureau covers Chicago Portage/Southern Cook County, Greater Will County, Grundy County and Starved Rock/LaSalle County.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848 to usher people and goods between the Illinois River and a little lakeside settlement called Chicago. The twenty-two hour trip was considered state of the art in speed and comfort compared to a bumpy stagecoach.
During its glory days, canal towns sprung up along the waterway to provide raw materials and grain that would ultimately reach the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. When the railroads laid tracks parallel to the canal in 1853, the importance of the canal as a mode of general passenger and freight transportation diminished and became obsolete.
The canal remained unkempt until the 1970s when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources took over management of the waterway and worked volunteers to turn it and its adjacent lands into open public space. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed an Act of Congress which created the 97-mile I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor – America’s first National Linear Park. This designation would serve as model for future “partnership parks” in the United States.