West Michigan Environmental Action Council hosted Reconnect to the River on Tuesday, May 22 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Panelists at this forum-style event highlighted several projects aimed at improving water quality in the Grand River and discussed the high-profile plan to restore the rapids to the river.
Chip Richards co-founded Grand Rapids White Water, the nonprofit group that has been the driving force behind the river restoration project for the past two years. Richards and his stakeholders want to restore a two-mile stretch of river that flows through downtown Grand Rapids. This means removing several dams and reintroducing tons of rock and boulders to restore the natural flow of the river. The project could have huge positive benefits for the city, both environmental and economic.
Although most of the media recent attention given to the whitewater project has centered on the proposed whitewater kayaking park that GRWW wants to install after the restoration of the river is complete, the majority of Tuesday’s discussion revolved around the impact that the project would have on Grand Rapids’ fishing industry.
Removing the dams has been a hot-button issue for local anglers who fish for Steelhead near the Fourth Street dam. However, Richards, a former Alaskan fishing guide, explained that restoring process would not deplete the number fish in the river, it would only redistribute them.
Joshua Zuiderveen, Owner of StreamWorks and panelist at Tuesday’s event agreed. “I’d love to see the dams out. Removal of the Fourth and Sixth Street dams would be advantageous for fishing,” he said.
Richards is a firm believer in the power of eco-tourism. “The economic impact of the Rogue River is over $400,000 per year. Compare that to what it would be on the Grand River when we’re finished. We’ve got an economic generator right in our backyard and we’ve done nothing with it,” he said.
Richards also commented on the scale of the project. Even once all the studies on the river are finished and all the permits acquired, it will still be years until construction is complete. “This is a legacy project. It’s a long-term investment that takes vision to see where we’re headed,” said Richards.
Other panelists at Tuesday’s forum were WMEAC Policy Director Nicholas Occhipinti; Suzanne Schulz, Director of the Planning Department for the City of Grand Rapids; and Kristin Thomas, Aquatic Ecologist at Michigan Trout Unlimited. They discussed some of the ways the city has been trying to improve the water quality of the river, including curbing nonpoint source pollution by planting more trees within the city and educating the public about the importance of sustainable living.
Watch WoodTV’s coverage of the event.