Exploring the Heart of the City and Fish Ladder Park

Written by: Tessa Harvey

I’m approaching my last day here as an eco-journalism intern at WMEAC. I’ve loved every part of it, and learned more than I expected. Somehow, in my time here, I’ve made friends, strengthened my reporting skills, and formed a greater appreciation for Michigan’s environment than I thought possible. In my last week, I wanted to do something to reflect on it; something that brought me back to the heart of the city.

On the last Tuesday of my internship, I made my way downtown to Fish Ladder Park, camera and recorder in hand in pursuit of a good story. It was a rainy, gloomy morning, but being down by the rushing waters of the 260-mile-long Grand River didn’t feel that way.

Few people roamed the park, but a fisherman, among the park’s constant variables, was to be found knee deep in the river. Visit the park at any time, and you can be sure to find them, just upstream of the Sixth Street Dam.

Named after the park’s highlight, Fish Ladder Park features a significant piece of functional artwork. Artist Joseph Kinnebrew designed the coined “fish ladder” to allow migrating fish a staircase of sorts to navigating the rough man-made rapids in the Grand River. In late spring and summer, passerby can watch as fish jump and leap up the ladder.

When the Sixth Street Dam was first constructed, the river’s migratory population of salmon and steelhead were unable to follow through on their yearly upstream journey. In 1974, Kinnebrew fashioned the Fish Ladder as an aesthetically pleasing solution – the very best of public and enjoyment and natural preservation. At the time, the structure cost over $90,000, but today, its value is priceless.

The sight provides entertainment and fun for local families and onlookers as migrating fish make their way upstream, jumping in and over the ladder. As a free, open to the public site for both art and nature, Fish Ladder Park provides an environmental education opportunity to Grand Rapids natives and visitors of all ages. Just a few families chose to brave the gloomy weather that morning, but the park is hot spot for curious families with young children.

“A great place to walk along the river,” one woman writes in review of the park. “Kids loved watching the fishermen and the fish jump up the ladder.” Others seem to agree. In addition to a chance for environmental education, a multitude of local fishermen and fisheries rely on the migrating fish for their stock and livelihood.

Solutions like Fish Ladder Park, which has been harkened as a “marriage of arts of environmental concerns,” are what will preserve our area and environment. Over my time this summer, I’ve covered the Saugatuck Dunes, the Great Lakes, and more. There’s no doubt about the value that our lakeshore, our bodies of water, and their ecosystems hold.

If I’ve learned anything in my time here, it’s that people don’t often see the value of these places until they’ve experienced them for themselves. Only once the value is known can creative minds can come together to find solutions.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and explore – we live in Pure Michigan, after all.


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