The Grand River Restoration Stakeholder Group recently released two reports that outline current plans to restore the downtown Grand Rapids portion of the Grand River to a more natural state. A series of modifications dating to the late 1800s has robbed the city of its namesake rapids, but a broad coalition of interests is currently working to change all of that. The Grand River restoration project is an ambitious and complex undertaking that has so far involved elements of city, state, and federal government along with multiple nonprofit and commercial interest groups.
This is the first of two reports highlighting the findings of the project subcommittees.
The River Quality and Use Subcommittee’s Report to the Grand River Restoration Stakeholder Group covers a wide range of opportunities and challenges associated with restoring the rapids. Elements of the restoration plan call for improved access and recreational opportunities for residents.
Chris Muller, co-founder of Grand Rapids WhiteWater and a driving force behind the Grand River restoration effort, notes that only 10 percent of the river’s visitors interact with the river directly, a statistic that is likely to change if plans to remove flood walls and construct more riverside parks are realized.
The downside to increased public access is an increased public safety requirement. As of the writing of the report, the Grand Rapids Police Department has no boats for responding to emergencies on the river. The Fire Department has a boat, but limited launch points that may become obstructed as use of the river increases.
Restoring the rapids presents an opportunity to re-connect historic habitat for sturgeon and other species that the Sixth Street Dam currently interrupts. But increasing the Grand River’s connectivity is problematic because the dam also currently acts as a barrier preventing the spread of invasive sea lamprey which have damaged fish populations on the Great Lakes. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will require the installation of an effective sea lamprey barrier before it will permit the Sixth Street Dam to be removed or substantially modified.
Removing flood walls and restoring the river’s banks to a more natural state will improve aesthetic value to visitors and ecological function as riparian zones. However, the city planners and ecological engineers involved in the project will have ensure that any changes made as part of the project do not increase the potential for flooding, an issue brought into sharp relief after the recent flooding of area rivers.
Stay tuned for part two of WMEAC’s coverage of of the Grand River Restoration Stakeholder Group reports in which the Economic Development and Community Benefits Subcomittee outlines the project’s benefits to local culture and tourism.