Lake Michigan isn’t the only body of water around. The Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trails Plan has mapped nearly 500 miles of often-forgotten canoe- and kayak-friendly waterways–and in the last two years, local governments have built 23 new launch sites. This weekend, 1,000 canoes will race 191/2 miles down the Des Plaines River in the 45th annual Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon, the most spectacular of eight events this month and next that will showcase the trails. The nation’s oldest amateur long-distance canoe race, it starts at 8 AM Sunday, May 19, at Oak Spring Road in Libertyville and terminates downstream at Dam No. 2 in the Cook County Forest Preserve–a course that runs roughly parallel to Milwaukee Avenue. Heats of ten canoes will launch every two minutes, racing against the clock. The competition is divided into 24 classes and is open to paddlers of any age (with parental approval), as long as they have a coast-guard-approved life jacket. On-site registration begins at 7:30 at the starting point and closes with the thousandth craft; cost is $20 per person. There’ll be BYO picnicking and family activities at the finish line, and shuttle buses will run continuously between the finish and start points from noon to 5. Sponsored by the Des Plaines River Association, the Lake County Forest Preserve, and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the race draws national and international participants and looks cool from the riverbank too. Check it out at or call the hot line, 847-604-2445, for more information.