Grand Rapids Whitewater Plans to Restore Downtown Rapids

After two years of research, local nonprofit Grand Rapids Whitewater has come up with a plan to bring back the namesake of West Michigan’s most populous city. After taking time to study several environmental factors of the Grand River, GRWW last week released preliminary blueprints to restore whitewater rapids in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.

The plan, designed to make the city a local and international destination for rowing, revolves around removal of the Sixth Street Dam to reestablish natural flow between northern Ann Street and southern Fulton Street. The Grand River bottom drops 18 feet in elevation between the two streets, making it a natural target for kayakers while also increasing oxygen levels for fish in the river.

The key to the plan’s design comes from the discovery of a bedrock shelf between Leonard and Ann Streets that most likely served as spawning ground for lake sturgeon, a fish with a bony exterior. According to Marty Holtgren, Senior Fisheries Biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, re-exposing the bedrock to restore 80 acres of habitat would be “an exceptional opportunity to do something uniquely beneficial for sturgeon,” as well a chance to “increase flow diversity and habitats.”

While the popular image of any urban river consists of water unfit for any sort of life, GRWW discovered no contaminated sediment behind the Sixth Street Dam. The existence of endangered snuffbox mussels in the area provides a good omen for anyone wanting to use the Grand River for recreational purposes.

The next step in this plan, which already has the positive attention of Mayor George Heartwell, is to take it to the public. Starting in January, Grand Rapids Whitewater will convene a Coordinating Committee in order to trade input with various community-minded organizations, such as the City’s Downtown Plan, River Corridor Plan, and Urban Waters Federal Partnership. City staff in conjunction with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. will facilitate public management efforts.

WMEAC supports the efforts of Grand Rapids Whitewater to both restore the Grand River to its natural state and help make Grand Rapids a world-class tourist destination. For more information on GRWW’s preliminary plan, including a map of the targeted Grand River area, visit the organization’s website.

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