Restoring the Rapids project still on track — but it won’t be quick

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a massive project that will literally change the way the Grand River flows through downtown Grand Rapids. For years, we’ve heard about plans for restoring the rapids.

Have you ever met someone from out of town, and they ask, “Are those the grand rapids that Grand Rapids is named for?” In another decade or so, you might be able to answer that question with “yes.”

“Our river used to have this amazing, roaring rapids that ran through the heart of our city. And 150 years ago, it was silenced with the dam, but a lot of the original bedrock is still there. My hope is that people recognize we’re taking back this incredible environmental asset,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.

The Grand Rapids WhiteWater website boasts brightly colored words: “Swimming, boating, fishing, whitewater rafting.”

The details of what to come are flashy and exciting, but there’s nothing rapid about a project this grand.

“There is a lot of really good progress that continues, even though there’s no construction activity going on out in the river that certainly doesn’t mean that nothing is going on,” said Matt Chapman, project manager for Grand Rapids WhiteWater.

Chapman says the group is nearing the end of the design phase for a portion of the river and starting to work with state and federal agencies on the permitting process. The next step will be getting that application in front of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

“Once we have all the materials put together and submitted, and once they deem that acceptable, then we’ll know exactly when the official timetables will be and we’ll be closer to having a realistic date for construction,” Chapman said.

The summary: There will be a lot of paper pushing before we can get to the wading, paddleboarding and canoeing through downtown Grand Rapids. Chapman said it’s not uncommon for a project of this size to take 15 to 20 years.

“It’s often very difficult to clearly articulate the partnership that it takes and the investment that it takes to build over time from many different sources in order for this work to take place,” said David Marquardt, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Grand Rapids.

The restoring the rapids project will spill over the banks into the River For All effort. Marquardt said there are six sites that will be points of access for the heavy equipment used in the river restoration. River For All will build those sites back better.

“That plan really identifies ways in which we can better connect residents to the waterfront to have more of an interactive experience with the river once it is restored,” Marquardt said.

Things like creating larger event spots and connecting trails that run along the river.

“Ideally, we want the entire trail to be connected all the way from Lake Michigan up to the White Pine Trail, and we want people to be able to do that seamlessly through the heart of our city,” Mayor Bliss said.

More than a decade in the making already, restoring the road to these rapids will take time. Over the next several years, you will have a chance to offer your feedback on the plans.

“We want people, everyone in our community to feel connected to this project and recognize the river belongs to them, these public spaces belong to them, and we want to make sure they feel a part of what is being created,” Bliss said.

Grand Rapids WhiteWater is optimistic if the permitting process goes well, we could see equipment working in the river by July of next year.

The Grand River Greenway trail project aims to tie Grand Rapids to Grand Haven. Now, a state grant is paving the way for it to happen.

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