Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRWW) emerged from the Green Grand Rapids process as champions for the restoration of the Grand River rapids. Green Grand Rapids is a citywide green infrastructure master planning process that focuses on quality of life and the physical development of community infrastructure as it relates to greening, connectivity, natural systems, the Grand River, recreation and public health. The Grand River was one of six topics the Green Grand Rapids Master Plan addressed. Embedded in the plan was a recommendation to “pursue river and stream restoration” and “capitalize on the Grand River as an asset for economic development and quality of life by encouraging a change in the land use along the riverfront.” The planning process was structured to encourage extensive community engagement. Nearly 2,000 people gave their time, energy and insight in shaping the content of the Plan.
GRWW is non-profit 501(C)3 organization formed by Chip Richards and Chris Muller to lead the vision of revitalizing the 2.5 mile stretch of the Grand River running through downtown Grand Rapids. Among some of the key benefits associated with the restoration of the Grand River include:
- Creating a Downtown recreational amenity that will attract both users and spectators;
- Serve as a catalyst for Downtown economic development;
- Improve safety and accessibility for fishermen and other river users by adding stabilized water access points;
- Improve the community’s connection to nature within the city;
- Improve river conditions for selected threatened and endangered species;
- Enhance in-stream fish habitat and naturalizing river edges and;
- Inspire community wide stewardship of the Grand River for generations to come.
In 2011 GRWW hired River Restoration Org., a national engineering firm to prove out the concept and develop an initial design, which was the subject of a year-long stakeholder outreach process. In 2013 the project became one of just 19 locations in the county to be designated as an Urban Waters Federal Partnership project. After additional due diligence and research to demonstrate the engineering feasibility and environmental and economic benefits, GRWW’s preliminary plan was unanimously endorsed by the Grand Rapids City Commission in 2014 when the Commission also appointed the Grand River Restoration Steering Committee to coordinate finalization of this plan with other efforts. The project was also highlighted in Governor Snyder’s 2014 “State of the State” address and endorsed by the Grand Valley Metro Council in 2015.
The vision of a revitalized River and restored rapids downtown has catalyzed a comprehensive planning process of the River banks and for approximately seven miles of the River corridor. This coordinated effort between the City and the Downtown Development Authority (a.k.a., Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.) has been branded as “GR Forward” and identified fifteen “opportunity sites” along the River banks for public access, riverside trails, open space, neighborhood improvements and for private developments. This process also had extensive engagement and input from the community with over 4,500 people participating in the process. The Grand River Restoration Steering Committee completed their work in 2015 and their report was unanimously accepted by the City Commission in July of 2015.
Under the volunteer leadership of Chris, Chip, and the GRWW Board of Directors, progress continues on developing a design that achieve’s the communities vision of a restored river while also balancing the complex environmental constraints associated with this project. Following a nationwide search in 2017, GRWW hired Richard Bishop to serve as the organization’s first President & CEO tasked with leading the efforts to restore the Grand River in Grand Rapids. On August 1, 2017 Richard relocated to Grand Rapids from Columbus, GA where he served as the President of Uptown Columbus, Inc and Uptown Whitewater Management LLC where he managed the $26 million-dollar restoration of the Chattahoochee River. Bishop also served as the Deputy City Manager for the City of Columbus, Georgia from 1999-2005.
Today, Grand Rapids Whitewater, and their numerous community partners, continue to collect and analyze data, evaluate alternatives for restoration, and prepare specific engineering plans and operational needs to sustain this project for years to come. After many years of intense planning and design review, project partners are encouraged by the tremendous momentum and community wide support and look forward to returning the rapids to the Grand River for everyone!