Public Process

Public Process


Grand Rapids Whitewater 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 (2011) addressed. The Plan focused on riverfront mixed-use and open space development, the expansion of river-related recreation opportunities and improving the ecological health of the river system. A framework for recreational use zones along the Grand River was suggested, and preliminary options and costs for the creation of a whitewater course* on the river’s Downtown reach was explored. The planning process was structured to encourage extensive community engagement. A game called Green Pursuits provided a structured format for gathering ideas; stakeholder interviews and meetings were held at key points throughout the process; and at key milestones community forums, called Green Gatherings, encouraged people from throughout the city to share their perspectives and feedback on how accurately citizen input was being synthesized and interpreted. Nearly 2,000 people gave their time, energy and insight in shaping the content of the Plan.

The concept of returning the rapids to the Grand River gained a great deal of momentum during the planning process. Benefits cited include:

  • Creating a Downtown recreational amenity that would attract both users and spectators;
  • Serving as a catalyst for Downtown economic development;
  • Improving safety and accessibility for fishermen and other river users by adding stabilized water access points; and
  • Enhancing in-stream fish habitat and naturalizing river edges.

A well-attended workshop demonstrated both the high level of interest in the concept and the importance of balancing the needs and preferences of fishermen, kayakers and rowers. A preferred alternative was developed during Green Grand Rapids that recommended alterations to the Grand River. This preliminary assessment was based upon what was known at the time about the river, including some assumptions. For example, concerns were raised about potentially contaminated sediment behind the 4th Street Dam due to the presence of early industrial operations. Data later collected proved this not to be the case. Green Grand Rapids recommended further exploration of the suggested Phase 1 concept by undertaking a feasibility/preliminary design study. Implementation of this initial phase would make it possible to test the level of use and economic development benefit before a full commitment would be required for the project.

* Bathymetric surveys, sediment sampling, fisheries and cultural studies represent some of the research and examination that have changed the focus of this project to that of a restoration.


GRWW is committed to a transparent, adaptive process. The current phase has focused on presentations to the public and meetings with the stakeholder group.

In 2012, GRWW representatives began meeting with user groups, community leaders, and government officials to refine its understanding of the opportunities and constraints and to continue to assess the public interest and philanthropic support. For example, in these informal meetings, important issues were identified that are associated with maintaining and enhancing river flows and levels for rowers and property owners upstream and downstream; maintaining and enhancing sport fishing opportunities and access; and enhancing opportunities for river access for disabled individuals and the general public and the associated public safety concerns.

Stakeholders include individuals, fishermen and representatives from rowing and paddling clubs, environmental groups, businesses, foundations, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, the Grand Rapids Urban League, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Trout Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Michigan State University, the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, The Right Place, Experience Grand Rapids, the Downtown Development Authority, Kent County Conservation District, Kent County, the State of Michigan, and the City of Grand Rapids.

See our Documents page for more detailed information.

The next phase of public process is currently being designed by the city planning office to involve the community in the design of the river corridor; both wet and dry. GRWW has, and will continue to focus on wet.

Join us. Become an advocate for the health of the Grand River. Read the Grand Rapids Whitewater blog, or visit Grand Rapids Whitewater on Facebook.