More community members will be able to enjoy paddling activities at Riverside Park thanks to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources recreation passport grant.
The Michigan DNR recently awarded the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department a $150,000 grant to help fund accessibility enhancements, including a universal-access canoe and kayak launch. The city’s parks millage will contribute an additional $80,000 to the project.
“We want everyone in our community to enjoy our parks, rivers and lakes, and this funding allows us to provide easier water access for individuals with mobility challenges,” said David Marquardt, the city’s parks and recreation director. “Canoeing and kayaking are ranked among the top recreational activities for Grand Rapids residents, and this project makes paddling activities more accessible to our entire community.”
The project is slated to begin in spring 2020 and will focus on the middle section of Riverside Park around the lagoon, the oldest area of the park.
“It’s so residents have calm, easy access,” Marquardt said. “They can work their way out on to the Grand River if they want or stay within the lagoon for a calmer, smoother kayaking experience.”
The lagoon is the largest body of still water in Grand Rapids’ parks system and is the location for the safest paddling experiences. Renovations will focus on increasing universal accessibility and include:
Replacing the old dock with a universal-access canoe and kayak launch that features guide rails for easy access in and out of the water, launch rollers for easy movement of the watercraft and a transfer bench for easy transfer from wheelchair to watercraft
Demolishing the current restroom/shelter building and replacing it with a separate restroom and picnic shelter that meets universal design standards
Adding handicap spaces near the dock and additional handicap parking near the restroom and picnic shelter
Adding 8-foot-wide paved paths to connect parking amenities to improve access for people with disabilities
Replacing the existing portable restroom on the dockside of the lagoon with an accessible portable restroom
Marquardt also said the project hopes to accommodate a multicultural audience. A Business Journal report from April 2018 detailed the city’s efforts to consult with members of the Anishinaabe confederacy to convey their hopes for the Grand River restoration.
“Some of the feedback we received from the tribe, particularly with boat building, it feels like a potential for them to be part of that space, as well,” Marquardt said.
The Anishinaabe is a nation of related native peoples in the Great Lakes region. In West Michigan, they are represented mainly by the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa.
Megan Kruis, executive director of the Creston Neighborhood Association, praised the parks and recreation department’s latest endeavor in reactivating the river.
“Riverside Park is one of our neighborhood’s best-loved places,” Kruis said. “Neighbors want our parks to be accessible to all, and we applaud the city of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department for listening and leading. I’m looking forward to seeing more residents paddling in the coming year.”
Established around 1922, Riverside Park is a 187-acre urban park that is more than 1.5 miles long. Natural features include roughly 1.75 miles of Grand River frontage, a creek, woods, wetlands, mature trees, grass, ponds and islands. During the rainy season, the park functions as a wetland, absorbing river floodwaters.