The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848, gave Illinois the key to economic mastery of the American mid-continent. The dream of the canal had been in every vision and underlaid every plan for Illinois stretching back two centuries. As that vision was realized, the canal’s commissioners laid out a canal port that would grow into a great metropolis; their fellow citizens patented agriculture and industrial innovations that would turn that region into the richest economic zone the world had ever seen. Illinois is now the one of the most populous inland American states, and Chicago is the greatest city of the American heartland, and both are directly traceable to the 96-mile ditch that linked the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The towpath trail along the canal is now a State park that runs through a rural and wooded landscape, linking a number of towns laid out by the original canal commission.