BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A naturalization project for the Kalamazoo River has taken another step forward in Battle Creek.

Ted Dearing, who serves as Battle Creek’s assistant city manager for community and economic development, is helping lead the way on the Kalamazoo River naturalization project. It aims to remove the concrete hugging the flowing waters and widen the river within city limits.

“I think most people would see a river as an opportunity to have a certain amount of wildlife and a natural habitat,” Dearing said. “You don’t want to see that water flowing through a concrete channel.

Although the channelized portion of the river — which goes back five decades — helps keep the city clear of flooding, he believes the waterway itself should not be an eyesore.

“We would like to see a version that’s naturalized, that maintains that level of flood control, but is much more aesthetically appealing to the community,” Dearing said.

Battle Creek city administrators recently went into a $500,000 agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for technical assistance in the project.

Engineers will look into the hydrology, hydraulics and exact cost of removing the channel, which Dearing says will help clear out some of the vacant commercial properties.

“There are a couple of industrial facilities right in that location that are no longer functioning,” Dearing said. “Thus, that creates an opportunity to re-envision the river.”

Dearing further explained that vision extends beyond just recreation and open spaces. He believes a balanced approach is what needs to occupy and complement the extra greenery.

“We envision commercial, residential developments probably right along the river, similar to what you see along the Battle Creek River and what you see in other communities,” Dearing said. “I think it’ll be a mix of potential uses: heavy on recreation, but a great place for people to live, work and play as well.” 

Dearing said this leg of the project will not cost a penny to city taxpayers. Half of the $500,000 will be taken care of by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while the other half will be covered by a grant the city received from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Best case scenario, the entire project will be completed by 2026.