There is inherent danger with any “risk sport” that users accept. However, according to American Whitewater, Whitewater recreation is statistically safer than skiing, mountain biking, roller blading and many other outdoor sports. The rapids would be far less hazardous than the dams currently in the river. Risk is also mitigated through user knowledge, skill level and proper equipment. In channel users will have to meet state laws for personal flotation devices, and helmets, cold water protection and other safety measures will be recommended. With any change, we recognize the need for a comprehensive public education campaign to make sure all future river users understand their limits and respects the power of a naturally flowing river.
The design of the river very much considers user interfaces and the concentrated hydraulics are all designed to flush and not have the “keeper hole” which all of the existing dams have. Shoreline access is also being developed throughout to allow for self rescue. In the areas where shoreline access is not available, all of the features are designed for clear floating passage and no capsizing hydraulics. The powerful hydraulics are located where shoreline access is open and available, mostly on the west side of the channel.
Grand Rapids Fire Department has reviewed the design for safety concerns. In general it is anticipated that more rescues of less severity will occur as more users of the river are anticipated in a less hazardous configuration.