Grand River Restoration

Steve Heacock, the President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project spoke about the plans for the Grand River through the City of Grand Rapids.

History of the Grand River

The indigenous people and the early European settlers talked about being able to navigate by listening for the rapids. Through what is now the City of Grand Rapids the river drops 18 feet. When the US Olympic committee built a training facility for Olympic white-water events, they created a drop of 21 feet. The Grand drops only 2 feet from its start near Jackson to Grand Rapids and only 4 feet from there to Lake Michigan.
Starting in the early 1800s the river was changed to suit human needs. First for the animal pelt trade, then for logging, and finally for industry. While industry was dumping waste into the Grand, citizens were getting their drinking water from the same location. A series of 6 dams were built to let the industrial waste settle to the bottom so drinking water could be taken from the top of the river.

Restoring what was lost

All of the boulders from the river were removed and used to fill in between the islands and the shore. Sections of the city now on the river were once islands.

The long-range plan is to retore fish habitat, recreational access, trails, and investment such as the planned amphitheater. The Whitewater Project estimates that their plan will lead to an increase of 30 million tourism dollars. The total project cost is currently estimated to be around $50 million.

The project is working with river designers who have restored Colorado rivers. By placing boulders, you can create areas of the river that will have a continuous curled wave for surfing and areas that are challenging but not dangerous for whitewater kayaking.

Some of the current challenges are working with the 7 government regulatory agencies that must give approval and designing some structure that will keep the Sea Lampreys from traveling past GR in spawning season.

The project is hoping that the restored river will be another water attraction along with Lake Michigan.