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New partnership should give a boost to Grand River rapids restoration project

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Kayakers can't go too far in the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids because the dams are dangerous.

An effort to restore the rapids into the Grand River is getting a boost from a new federal partnership.

The rapids that gave Michigan’s second largest city its name are long gone. Hydraulic dams that used to power the furniture industry are major safety hazards for small boats and kayaks. They also block fish like sturgeon from spawning upstream.

Initially the effort to restore the rapids was launched to make the Grand River safer and more attractive to canoes and kayaks in downtown Grand Rapids. Now the effort has broader goals like restoring habitat for native fish and revitalizing the downtown.

Organizers have lobbied U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow for a while now.

“I said I would do anything I could do to be able to support this,” Stabenow said after the partnership was announced Friday, “It really is about our economy and our way of life and the vision came from the community and it’s exciting.”

The new partnership should help coordinate federal and state agencies to help make the project a reality. Stabenow said the partnership is a commitment from ten federal departments or agencies to offer technical, planning, engineering and other resources.

“It’s a team now, coming together and coming up with resources. It may not be all in dollars but in knowledge in how we want to get this done.”

The group, Grand Rapids Whitewater, still needs to raise some $27 million to fund the project.

Chris Muller helped start the effort about five years ago.

“I think (the partnership) is huge. It gives us a great comfort level that we’re on the right track and we have a great support system around us to pull it off,” Muller said.

Federal officials involved in the partnership said the Grand Rapids project was chosen (one of 11 in the country) in part because it was a grassroots effort.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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