Ciarra C. Adkins, JD Awarded the 2022 Athena Young Professional Award

Every other Wednesday from 8:00am – 10:00am, the “River Project Team” meets for a checkup on the whitewater project.  This talented and committed group of people include folks from the City, Grand Rapids Whitewater, McAlvey Merchant & Associates, and Grand Valley Metro Council.  Jay Steffen (and in his absence Juan Torres) capably facilitates the group’s discussion of all facets of the project.  The notion is to assure that everyone has current information as they go about performing their distinctive role within the project.   

The whole group attempts to keep an eye on equity issues as we contemplate this transformational project.  Equity is important in this project, in contracting and construction as well as in the need to make the resulting amenities welcoming to all.  Further, there is a sense that Grand Rapids is turning a corner and must consider equity issues in all things, especially efforts like whitewater that will help define Grand Rapids of the future.  

But the eye on equity is not just left to the group conscience, it is embodied in the presence of Ciarra C. Adkins.  Ciarra, who is an Equity Analyst for the City of Grand Rapids, is an integral part of the RPT.  While focused on assuring that there is a voice for equity in the project, Ciarra participates in every discussion, whether it is river engineering design, legal strategy, communications approach, or any of the myriad other issues the group contemplates.  Her presence and contributions are effective and positive.  She helps make the meetings productive, enriching, and inspiring.   

Her talents have not been unnoticed by the community.  Recently, the Grand Rapids Chamber awarded the 2022 ATHENA Young Professional Award Recipient to CIARRA C. ADKINS, JD.  They said, “As Founder & President of AQUME Foundation, Ciarra C. Adkins is a change agent working to effect equitable systems transformation in West Michigan. Ciarra is committed to racial justice, economic equity, inclusive higher education, civic engagement and voting rights, and legal accessibility for low-income communities. Ciarra strives to live by the quote from Angela Davis: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Congratulations to Ciarra!  

GRWW Launches New Website, “Friend Raising” Campaign

WGVU’s Shelley Irwin interviewed Grand Rapids WhiteWater President and CEO, Steve Heacock, on the launch of the organization’s new website and their friend raising campaign.

The new site reflects the current project design and approach, and includes updates on fundraising, project partners and frequently asked questions.

Visitors are asked to sign up for email and follow GRWW on social (links in page footer) to stay informed on important project updates.

Listen to their conversation (and Shelley’s promise to participate in a triathlon on the Grand River when the rapids are restored!) on WGVU.

GRWW secures $4.4 million in new funding, names new CEO

“The Grand Rapids Whitewater nonprofit has secured $4.4 million in new public and foundation funding for its restoration efforts of the Grand River through the city.

With pledges of $1.4 million from Kent County, $2 million from the state of Michigan and $1 million from the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, the group has now raised about 71 percent of its overall $44.6 million fundraising goal, Project Manager Matt Chapman told MiBiz.

The announcement of the new funding came as Grand Rapids Whitewater also hired a new top executive. Board member Steve Heacock, who most recently served as senior vice president at Spectrum Health, takes over immediately as president and CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater.”

Read more about our new funding and Steve Heacock’s new role and perspective in MiBiz’s article.

Kayaking the Grand with GR Paddling

We love the work our friends over at GR Paddling do!

Thanks to Fox 17, you can read about how GR Paddling and Grand Rapids Whitewater go together. We’re striving to restore the Grand to its natural state, all while making sure that conservation efforts are kept in line so the river will remain clean for everyone to enjoy.

“The efforts to improve the Grand River’s water quality are a shining example of the types of wildlife conservation and management that will ensure the state’s forests, waters, and wildlife are protected and preserved for generations to come.”

Little Mussel, Big City: David’s Blog

David Koning, teacher at nature-based STREAM School in Hamilton, MI, writes his own thoughts about teaching 9 high school students place-based learning during the 2018 Summer Science and Leadership Program.

Thanks to our partners LGROW and Grand Rapids Public Museum for all of their work on the Summer and Science Leadership Program!

Read the original post on Rapid Growth Media. All photos courtesy of David Koning.

David Koning in front of the Grand River

“Anyone donning a pair of fishing waders has automatically made some concessions to fashion and personal presentation, but the nine area high school juniors and seniors gathered at Riverside Park this past July didn’t seem overly concerned with style points — their eyes were all fixed on the Grand River.

Each one had been selected to be part of Grand Rapids WhiteWater’s Little Mussel, Big City: Summer Science and Leadership program. The river restoration project began a few years ago as a creative, perhaps even playful, idea to create a downtown whitewater park for kayakers and surfers. Like many things in life, the proposal soon grew complicated. A lot more complicated. The Grand River is both metaphorically and literally the heart of the city, and its complex history of people, economy, and nature converged like a Class IV rapid.

Summer Science and Leadership Students wading in the Grand River

Rather than abandon the idea, GR WhiteWater, its partners, and the city embraced the complexity, seeing challenges not as problems to be solved but as an incredible opportunity to create something new: a river restoration project that marks success according to sustainability and the triple bottom line:

People: Wellness, social equity, culture
Planet: Healthy ecosystems
Profits: Vibrant, diverse economic opportunity

In the past, the three were often seen in opposition or at best as a series of compromises. Better thinking sees all three as puzzle pieces to be fit together. As we rush forward in the 21st century, the problems inherent in what might be coined conquering capitalism — a system that emerged at a time when overpopulation and global-sized environmental threats were inconceivable — are at a tipping point. What actions the adult world takes now are certainly of critical importance. But it is perhaps even more important that we enable young people the opportunity to build something new: a worldview that embraces progress and growth alongside, not in spite of, social and environmental factors.

Ron Yob, Tribal Chairman of the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians, speaks to the group of students.

And so the students, strangers to each other until just the day before, stood on the banks of the Grand, huddled in a tight group ready to take a much smaller step toward saving the world: looking for federally-endangered snuffbox mussels. We were with one of the nation’s leading experts, Heidi Dunn, who explained how non-invasive freshwater mussels are keystone species that, when present, are significant indicators of healthy river ecosystems. Boundaries staked, students entered the river on hands and knees, catch bags looped over shoulders, running gloved hands through the sandy river bottom.

Each day, students gathered at our home base at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, a perfect riverside basecamp for our daily excursions. In the two weeks we spent together, students manipulated physical and digital watershed models, measured and marked fish with GVSU grad students, learned of the native Anishinaabe history and relationship to the river, explored the history of sturgeon, met local business leaders and city planners, paddled kayaks, and held a mini-session in design thinking. Walking up to four miles a day, we also made time for ice cream. Their work culminated in a creative ideas workshop, emerging from what they’d learned about the many layers involved in the river restoration project. Proudly, they shared their ideas before the mayor and the city commission on their final day together.

Place-based learning, that which takes students out of the classroom and connects curriculum to the larger world, is the most powerful gateway I know to foster deep learning and allow students to connect to something larger than themselves. In a more relaxed environment coupled with hands-on learning, there is actually more room for growth, creativity, and productivity.

Students kayak to celebrate completing 2 weeks of hands-on learning in the Grand River

After the program, students testified that “we learned to work as a real team.” Meeting community professionals (all of whom testified that their journey had been an adventure full of surprises rather than a fixed path), one student remarked, “I grew in my view of my future. I’m now considering a lot more things I can do that would interest me.” And if nothing else, “I also learned how to talk to adults and how to have a good handshake!” Students closed the program considering ways they could stay involved with the river and the river restoration project: helping with youth programs, volunteering, serving as ambassadors to their schools, and even forming a youth branch of GR WhiteWater.

Back in the water, bags were filling with mussels. These little creatures have served important historical, economic, and ecological roles from the time Native Americans first settled along a the not-so-quiet roar of whitewater rapids immediately upstream from where the public museum now stands. On this day, 16- and 17-year olds first name, measure, and then take a brief moment to marvel at each shell’s individual markings and color before properly returning it to the river. In their eyes, though, is the start of a new chapter of leadership and vision marked with intelligence and passion. In their hands is the future itself.

The Grand River is more beautiful and healthier now than any other point in modern history. With the help of these students, and the many others in their generation and the generations to come, we can have hope that the river — and this city — will be even better 100 years from now.”

Grand Rapids WhiteWater plans to run another session of Little Mussel, Big City (and perhaps two) next summer. Read more about the program and the application process here.

Restoration Project could be done by 2025

Grand Rapids citizens and visitors may not be seeing big changes in the River right now, but Grand Rapids Whitewater hopes to be making big splashes soon.

“[T]he river will look much different by 2025. That’s Grand Rapids Whitewater’s target date for the completion of  the river restoration project. It’s a project that is expected to cause a ripple effect, both literally and figuratively, on downtown Grand Rapids’ redevelopment efforts.”

Learn more about our tentative timeline for the Grand River Restoration Project in the article published by WoodTV8:

On Tuesday August 14, 2018 Richard Bishop Grand Rapids Whitewater President & CEO, in conjunction with the our partners at the City of Grand Rapids and Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., presented an update to the Grand Rapids City Commission. This update highlights the true public-private partnership that has developed over the last eight years as we focus on the restoration of the river corridor.

The presentation represents a long-term vision for the restoration of not only the Grand River, but also the parks and trail systems that line the banks of the rive. This vision aligns with community planning processes like Green Grand Rapids, GRForward, Grand Rapids Whitewater River Restoration Plan, and The City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan. You can view the entire city commission update below:

Economic Boost as Part of Restoration

Although the restoration of the Grand River may still be a couple more months away from launching, stakeholders in the Downtown community are already anticipating the restoration’s opportunities and positive economic impact.

In 2014, the Anderson Economic Group LLC estimated that the initiative could generate a new net economic impact of $15.9 million to $19.1 million annually.

City planners, real estate developers, property owners, and local businesses, “see significant potential for considerable economic spin-off if the plans come to fruition”.

Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at DGRI calls the initiative the “most significant urban revitalization project” in downtown Grand Rapids in decades.

“We view (the river restoration) as one of the single largest gestures the city can make for redevelopment of the urban core and the whole area,” adds Rick Winn, president of Amway Hotel Corp.. He adds that public spaces adjacent to Amway-owned hotels could eventually become points for kayakers and boaters to directly access the river. “This will enhance tourism in a major way. We see it as an enhancement of the area as a destination.”

Read more at MiBiz’s article about the community’s view on the economic benefits of the Grand River Restoration project.


Hands-On Learning in the Grand

There’s a big difference between learning science abstractly and learning it first hand right along side experts. This is an opportunity through the Grand Rapids Whitewater program that has become much bigger; it’s now about a river restoration project.


– David Koning

Local students taking part in Grand Rapids Whitewater’s 2-week Summer Science and Leadership program learned more about mussels in the Grand.

Students collected and identified mussels at Riverside Park in an attempt to further understand how important mussels are to the ecosystem.

The students were excited to be apart of the research and learn more about the River. Vian Abdulqader, Forest Hills Northern High School student, said “Gathering samples, numbers, information, that way it can lead to information about, ‘Hey these aren’t supposed to be here, or we need more of these’, therefore, we can be like, ‘We need to make these changes to the river to restore it to what it was, the beautiful rapids it used to have,'”.

GRWW organizers launched The Summer Science and Leadership program as a 10-day pilot program to provide students with hands-on opportunities to learn about the many aspects of the Grand River Restoration project. Students will meet a handful of community leaders, environmental educators, and project stakeholders as they explore their own connection to the Grand River. At the end of the 10-day program, students will present their findings and talk about their experiences at a “Gallery Walk” event being held Tuesday July 24 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum from 5:oo-7:30p.m. This year’s program hosted nine students. The goal is to expand the program in the future to a diverse group of students from around the county and region.

Grand Rapids Whitewater would like to thank our collaborative partners at the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) and the Grand Rapids Public Museum for their help and support of this program. Special thanks to our friends at Fox 17 News for covering this story!


Grand Rapids Press Feature

Did you catch us in the Grand Rapids Press?

If you didn’t, don’t worry! You can see the story and front page feature here.

On Sunday June 3, 2018, the Grand Rapids Press published articles about the permitting and design process, how far the river restoration project has come, the natural habitat and creatures living in the River, fundraising, public participation, and the steps we still need to take.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. This is a complex project and we are excited about the momentum we have to bring the rapids back to the Grand for everyone!



River Restoration plans for Grand River move forward

MLive: How they’ll bring the rapids back to the Grand River beginning in 2019

Jim Harger | May 2, 2018

Read the full article here.


“In 1826, the National Intelligencer wrote about Grand Rapids in a way no person living today has experienced it.

“These rapids are about a mile in extent and 300 yards wide and must have at least a 10-foot fall, some think 15. They are crowded with huge round rocks, among which the water roars and foams with great fury.”

That vivid description will return someday as Grand Rapids Whitewater continues to make progress on the $45 million plan to unwind the changes European settlers made to Michigan’s longest river when they arrived more than 150 years ago.

The rapids, for which the city was named, will be back as dams are removed and rocks and substrate are returned to the riverbed that was mined for some of the city’s earliest building projects.”