Grand River restoration flows to preliminary plan


The proposed Grand River restoration would cover more than 1,300 acres along the river’s downtown path and create two new riverside parks. Photo by Michael Buck

It might be time to add a kayak to your holiday wish list.

The nonprofit Grand Rapids Whitewater just released its preliminary plan for restoring the rapids in the Grand River, between Ann Street and Fulton Street, in downtown Grand Rapids.

The preliminary plan illustrates several options for recreation and the restoration of the river segment.

The plan was developed after two years of scientific studies that evaluated the river bottom, sediment, water flows, wildlife and other factors to understand the river.


Based on its research, GRWW said that an impressively large underwater bedrock shelf was discovered between Leonard and Ann streets — which is believed to be the historic spawning grounds for sturgeon.

“Re-exposing this rare bedrock for lake sturgeon and increasing flow diversity and habitats is an exceptional opportunity to do something uniquely beneficial for sturgeon,” said Marty Holtgren, senior fisheries biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

The limits of the project were determined by how the river bottom drops 18 feet in elevation between the two points. The drop will allow experts to maintain an active current that will increase oxygen for fish and provide current for kayakers.


It was also determined that there was no contaminated sediment behind the Sixth Street Dam.

Endangered species

The study revealed that an endangered species, the snuffbox muscle, inhabits the area, but rapids restoration will improve the muscle’s habitat, not pose a threat, according to GRWW.

“Dream” about restoration

“Our next step is to reach out to the community to dream about what restoring the rapids will look like,” said Chip Richards, a founding member of GRWW. “We will begin after the New Year to engage the community in a process to talk about what we’ve learned about the Grand River, to answer questions and listen to concerns — and then create a shared vision.”

A coordinating committee of diverse community leaders will be formed to coordinate the project with related initiatives, such as the city’s Downtown Master Plan, River Corridor Plan and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

The committee will start meeting in January.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell will also appoint citizens to the River Corridor Plan Steering Committee by the end of the year, to formally recognize a community-engagement process that will assist the mayor and city commissioners in decision making.

“Restoring the rapids to the Grand River will be an important catalyst for the continued revitalization of the region’s downtown,” Heartwell said. “The city is pleased to be a partner in this historic effort.”

The public-engagement effort will be facilitated by city staff, in conjunction with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. as part of an effort to update the Downtown Master Plan. Consultant resources and public-input opportunities will overlap to implement an efficient and cost-effective process.

Preliminary plan funding

Several organizations provided funding for the research and development of the preliminary plan: The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, Frey Foundation, Wege Foundation, Dyer-Ives Foundation, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Grand Valley Metro Council, the North Monroe Tax Increment Finance Authority and Founders Brewing Company.

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