Grand Rapids plans to restore its namesake — rapids
By Kristia Postema
Capital News Service
Grand Rapids, Michigan was once known for its thundering rapids that no longer exist.
After almost a century and a half, river restoration projects could bring back the “great rapids” that once shaped the city and give the city ecological and economic impetus
Dale Robertson, the president and chief executive officer of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, said the idea of restoring the rapids had been under consideration for some time but was finally on the move.
“The rapids restoration project is a relatively new addition to the city map called the GR Forward Masterplan,” said Robertson. “The plan provides for the restoration of the rapids directly in the river, but also changes on the banks of the river.”
Robertson said the museum and many other waterfront properties plan to reconfigure their waterfront to pull the banks away from the river. That could help mitigate some of the floods and flooding, he said.
At 252 miles, the Grand is the state’s longest river, flowing from Somerset Township in Hillsdale County to Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. In addition to Grand Rapids, it runs through Lansing
Robertson said retreating the banks will allow the public to experience the river in new ways.
“More importantly, we provide routine and regular access to the river itself,” he said.
Robertson said the Grand Rapids Public Museum will educate and inform the public about the project.
“We are right on the west bank of the Grand River, so we have been designated as the source of education and interpretation not only of the project itself, but most of all of the water systems and the history and culture of the Grand River. “Said Robertson.
In the 19th century, the Grand River was used as a “trade waterway,” so the city built dams to safely move wood and other furniture-making materials, Robertson said.
For a clip from Robertson’s interview, click here.
Jay Steffen, assistant planning director for the Grand Rapids Development Center, said the rapids restoration will have environmental and economic benefits.
“The advantages are of the order of magnitude that I would take for three buckets,” said Steffen. “We have advantages for the environment, the economy and equity. We have an entire program that just focuses on the equity ratio related to the river.
The Lower and Upper River plans for the Restore the Rapids project created by Kristia Postema. Images: Google Maps
“One reason for the restoration of the rapids is that they provide better habitats for the fish, mussels and other creatures that live in the Grand River,” said Steffen. “It will also make for better fish passage.”
When the entire project is completed, an additional 80 hectares of prime habitat will be created for native fish such as the endangered sea sturgeon, said Steffen.
Additionally, snuff clams are another endangered species that Steffen predicts the restoration project will help.
“The river restoration project would provide a better habitat for not only this endangered mussel, but other mussels as well,” he said.
As for the economic impact, Steffen said studies have shown the project will immensely boost the outdoor recreation economy.
“The economic benefits related to recovery alone are between $ 15 million and $ 20 million a year,” he said. “It would include the sale of fishing equipment, kayaks, canoes, and anything related to outdoor and aquatic recreational activities.”
Steffen said the equity aspect of the project focuses not only on access to water, but also on “financial success and financial equity for anyone who wants to benefit economically, for example, from development along the river”.
Daniel O’Keefe, a Michigan State University Extension senior instructor in education and management for Great Lakes Fisheries, said rapids restoration projects can actually damage the ecosystem if not done carefully.
“Whitewater projects can also result in local fish having difficulty moving upstream,” said O’Keefe. “There are also the potential environmental advantages and disadvantages of the impact on native non-jumping fish.”
Eco-friendly restoration of the rapids takes time and careful planning, according to O’Keefe.
“The current plan is divided into two phases,” said O’Keefe. “The first phase would deal with the area downstream of the Sixth Street Dam.”
The plan is to remove the Sixth Street dam and change the flow through downtown, including changing or removing cofferdams, he said.
According to O’Keefe, “If you look at the pros and cons of the proposed Sixth Street Dam construction project, you look at a lot more complications, with possible environmental pros and cons.”
O’Keefe said the plan is to modify the current structure of the Sixth Street Dam and build another barrier upstream from Ann Street.
“This river has been changed for a very long time,” he said. “The idea is to make it more like the rapids, but I don’t think anyone is claiming that we will actually have the same thing as before.”