Street Talk: Throwing some shade


The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority has approved funding to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks in an effort to add 50 more trees to the downtown cityscape.

The GR Forward plan established a goal to increase the downtown tree canopy from 5 percent to 10 percent. To meet this goal, DGRI has set its own goal of planting at least 200 trees every year by 2025. Since GR Forward’s adoption in 2015, more than 930 trees have been planted downtown.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and nearly 400 volunteers showed up to plant 300 trees in the West Grand neighborhood of Grand Rapids.

The city commission adopted a Green Grand Rapids amendment to the city’s master plan in 2011 to activate the social, economic and environmental benefits of trees. Provisions to that amendment set a 40 percent tree canopy goal for the city. The current tree canopy cover is roughly 35 percent.

DGRI, in partnership with FGRP, intends to plant 50 more trees beginning this fall. FGRP already has identified four potential planting spaces for the fall campaign: Canal Park at 941 Monroe Ave. NW; Sixth Street Park at 647 Monroe Ave. NW; the median in front of the Brass Works Building at 600 Monroe Ave. NW; and along the north and west side of the GRCC track at 215 Lyon St. NE.

The proposed spots would offer the opportunity to add up to 24 new trees. All other planting would occur on private property.

FGRP would kick off fall planting with a GIS inventory of current tree assets as well as potential planting spaces from October through November. During this time, the group also intends to engage residents, property owners and other stakeholders in tree planting events, as well as continued care of existing trees.

FGRP estimated the total project cost to be $47,250. Recently, the DDA approved funding not to exceed $50,000 for the project. Funding would come from the Downtown Tree Planting line item in the DDA’s FY2019 local tax increment budget.

In May, FGRP planted 83 trees in the DGRI corridor and has continued regular watering and monitoring of the trees through June and September. The group also has partnered with DGRI to provide rental chairs for members of the public attending bi-weekly Movies on Monroe events at Monroe Park throughout the summer.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen-led, nonprofit enterprise founded in 2008 that works separate from, but closely with, the city of Grand Rapids’ Forestry Division.

Grand Rapids was named a 2016 Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management. The city also received a Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating environmental improvement and higher level of tree care.

Lake living

An international group of scientists led by a pair of Grand Valley State University researchers is exploring the biological and chemical impact of microplastics in Muskegon Lake. 

Alan Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting director of GVSU's Annis Water Resources Institute, is leading an exploratory research study to find out what kinds of toxic chemicals and bacteria are attracted to tiny pieces of plastic increasingly found in lakes and oceans worldwide.

Steinman said when a piece of microplastic is in the water, it generates a biofilm, a consortium of different organisms that tend to form on most objects that spend time in the water.

He said toxic chemicals can be consumed by the microorganisms in the biofilm or attach to the biofilm layer.

As other organisms eat that biofilm, the chemicals can work their way up the food web.

More U.S. municipalities are taking steps to ban certain plastic products, like shopping bags and straws, as this type of information is spread.

The research involves letting plastics incubate underwater for periods of one month and three months at two different locations and two different depths in Muskegon Lake, Steinman said.

He said the researchers also will analyze which organisms are colonizing the plastics.

Charlyn Partridge, the molecular ecologist at the Annis Water Resources Institute, will perform genomic analysis on the samples, while samples will be sent to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for chemical analysis. Other samples will be sent to researchers in the United Kingdom for additional analysis.

"This experiment will help tell us what kinds of plastics are more toxic than others, and where that toxicity is coming from. Right now, we know they are a problem, but we don't know the mechanisms by which they are a problem," Steinman said.

If ingested, the plastics could clog animals’ internal systems, or the toxic chemicals attached to the plastics could impact the animals.

“This will tell us how important those chemicals are that are attached to different kinds of plastics,” he said.

The Allen and Helen Hunting Innovation Fund is financing the study.

Steinman said this study is attempting to build a baseline of understanding of the problem to generate a testable hypothesis and then pursue more traditional funding sources.

Maggie Oudsema, research assistant at AWRI, will help with the study. Chemical analysis for the project is being completed by John Scott, senior analytical chemist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Workout work

A crowdfunding campaign launched in Big Rapids for a new outdoor fitness court.

A portion of Triangle Park, located just east of the Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, at 605 Oak St., will be transformed into an outdoor gym designed by the National Fitness Campaign.

If the campaign raises $45,000 by Oct. 22, the project will win a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program.

“This new fitness court is part of a much larger movement nationwide to bring accessible public fitness into our communities,” said Katharine Czarnecki, MEDC senior vice president of community development.

The outdoor gym is meant to encourage bodyweight circuit training through combining simple, seven-minute, high quality workouts with connected digital platforms.

The fitness court will include 30 individual pieces of equipment to assist with core, strength, agility and flexibility training, as well as a shock-resistant sports flooring.

The equipment will be grouped into exercise stations that allow use by up to 28 individuals at the same time.

The free NFC mobile app features videos of personal trainers detailing the movements of their seven-, 14- and 21-minute workouts.

Users can follow an NFC-recommended routine or follow their own.

Spearheaded by Spectrum Health and the Big Rapids Rotary Club, the project is part of the BR Get Fit Initiative.

“Living a healthy lifestyle is a goal that many aspire to and one that can benefit the community as a whole in many ways,” Big Rapids City Manager Mark Gifford said.

“The BR Get Fit initiative that would bring the National Fitness Campaign to Big Rapids at Rotary Park would be unlikely without the generosity of local partners like the Big Rapids Rotary Club and Spectrum Health Big Rapids, and impossible without the help of the PSCP matching grant program.”

To view donate or view sponsorship opportunities, visit

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