Economic Development, Nonprofits, and Travel & Tourism

Grand Rapids Whitewater aims for 2019 summer start date

Nonprofit has raised half of $45 million needed for Grand River restoration project.

August 31, 2018
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Grand River
The Grand River restoration project will take place between Fulton and Ann streets downtown. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

This time next year, Grand Rapids Whitewater hopes to begin its Grand River restoration project.

Until then, Whitewater President and CEO Richard Bishop said the organization has a couple of hurdles to overcome.

“We are getting permits and raising money; those are the two big buckets we are working on right now,” Bishop said.

The restoration project is expected to cost $45 million. Whitewater has raised half of that amount, according to Bishop, with some of the money coming from the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., private fundraising, the state and federal government, including a $4.1-million federal grant.

Whitewater is working on securing incidental take permits from the Department of Natural Resources because there are snuffbox mussels, which are endangered species, in the Grand River.

“Because of the Endangered Species Act, we have to go through the process of getting a formal approval to be in the river doing construction,” Bishop said.

He said he hopes to begin the project in July. The restoration project encompasses the boundaries from Ann Street to Fulton Street of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids. The purpose is to reconstruct barriers that will prevent sea lampreys from accessing the Grand River.

Sea lampreys are invasive species that feed on the body fluids of fishes in the Great Lakes. They lack predators and have a high reproductive potential, according to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

After receiving the necessary permits, the first phase of the project, Bishop said, is to install an adjustable hydraulic structure in the upper reach of the river, north of the Leonard Street Bridge. The structure is supposed to prevent sea lampreys from swimming downstream. Once that structure is in place, the second phase is to take out old dams, including the Sixth Street dam, which Bishop said should start no later than 2020.

The third phase is to put new substrate and boulders on the surface of the riverbed that stretch from Sixth Street to I-196, which will allow for the natural flow of the river, safer fish passage and habitation for snuffbox mussels.

The completion of the project will not only benefit the species in the river, but it will also be a hub for recreational activities, such as canoeing and kayaking.

Bill Wenk, founder of Denver-based Wenk Associates, was tapped to plan and design the edges of the river, which will highlight the river’s recreational activities. He, along with members who are involved with the river restoration project, updated the city commission in August on how far along they are in the project.

Wenk outlined plans of how the riverfront can be utilized for recreational activities.

“On the east bank (of the river), we are proposing a high trail and a low trail so that there is a very broad access to the river,” he said.

One of the access points to the river, Coldbrook Street at Canal Park, can be used for boat launch areas for kayaking and rafting groups, Wenk said.

He also proposed seating areas along the river edge can be a gathering place for people attending festivals at Rosa Parks Circle, sporting events on the river and moviegoers on North Monroe.

Although the West Side has more buildings, Wenk said the river edge still can be seen as riverfront recreational hotspots.

One example of that is the Grand Rapids Public Museum expansion of its café that will include an outdoor dining area that oversees the Grand River, according to Wenk.

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