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How Grand Rapids City Residents Perceive the River Revitalization Project: A Clean Water Action Survey

If you watch the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids today, its users are primarily people on the shoreline, walking the paths, enjoying open public spaces, taking graduation and wedding pictures on the bridges and enjoying the parks along the shore. Anglers who can trailer their boats to an access point downriver can fish up to the Sixth Street dam, when the water is high enough to allow passage over the four low-head dams. Many also walk into the river and line up in front of the dam to fish, and some fish off of the floodwalls or bridges. 

We hear from many folks who are excited about the revitalization of the river. We also hear from some current users of the river who would prefer to leave things as they are, who do not really relish the thought of more people in the river.  

So, how about everyone we haven’t heard from? How do the people of Grand Rapids perceive the Grand River revitalization project? 

To find the answer, a partnership between Clean Water Action, Grand Rapids WhiteWater, Grand Valley Metro Council and the City of Grand Rapids came together (with the generous support of the Wege Foundation) to connect with residents directly through a survey. Clean Water Action chatted with 10,000 Grand Rapids residents and received 2,600 completed surveys.

Everyone surveyed was a Grand Rapids resident and 44.3% of the respondents live within a mile of the Grand River.  

The results were strong and encouraging:

  • An overwhelming majority of participants – 85.4% of respondents – visit the riverfront at least once a year.     
  • More than half visit at least 5 times a year. 
  • The group identified recreation and natural/wildlife habitat as the preferred uses of the river.
  • 76.8% are aware of current efforts to revitalize rapids to the Grand River. 
  • Support for the project is overwhelmingly positive.

  • As is the value that participants place on the Grand River as a community asset.

When asked, “What activities would you enjoy if the rapids were restored?” respondents noted that activities such as canoeing, kayaking, rafting, surfing, swimming, wading and fishing would be the most popular.

On the other hand, the survey reflects that a majority of respondents continue to be concerned or unsure about the water quality in the Grand River despite the City’s successful efforts to clean the water over the last 20 years or so. 

Sounds like a good topic for our next narrative.