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Reflections on 2020

If you have not had a chance to read Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, The Horse, The Fox and The Mole, I highly recommend it. Described as “a book of hope for uncertain times,” the author presents vulnerability, kindness and hope in a beautiful, easy way.

(e.g. “I’ve discovered something better than cake.” “No, you haven’t,” said the boy. “I have,” replied the mole. “What is it?” “A hug. It lasts longer.”)

Like the boy on the horse, I can report that while Grand Rapids WhiteWater has a long way to go, we have also come a long way. It has been over a decade of work happening in the form of permitting, project management, research, collaboration with local partners, collaboration with engineers, regulatory agencies, local and statewide fishing agencies, tribal councils and city, state and federal governments. The work has been extensive. And the work has been worth it as we achieved major milestones in 2020.

These are just a few of the things we celebrate as achievements as we reflect on 2020.


The river restoration project is a catalyst for the City of Grand Rapids equity work and for the community’s contemplation of its future. We spend a considerable amount of time thinking about our relationship to our river, to nature and — most importantly — to each other.

  • We presented to more than 100 businesses of color and increased Micro Local Business Enterprise registrations
  • Contracting is being pursued with equity principles

This year, despite COVID-19, we have continued with extensive public outreach and presented virtually to over 500 people. This includes expanded environmental education which reached K-12 classrooms on virtual platforms.

As we continue working to reach more people, our most current communications have been focused on increasing awareness of the project on digital platforms.

  • Email – There are currently 448 individuals signed up for the monthly e-newsletter communication, and growing
  • LinkedIn – We went from 0 followers to 187 and a regular posting cadence.
  • Instagram – Pre-2020 displayed only two posts on our profile. There have been 68 posts since July 2020.
  • Facebook – 2019 saw only four posts. There have been 76 posts since July of this year and our followers are up 10%.
  • Website – Traffic is up 45% and referral traffic from social platforms is up 4,000%. Of that traffic, 28% of visits are going to view our Status or reading The Plan. We are also successfully converting 45 new subscribers to our email list and growing that each month.
  • Blogs – Since inception, we had only updated content on our site 18 times. In 2020 alone, we have added 18 posts.

Our staff has been working with local agency Highland Group and Kennari Consulting to more comprehensively develop plans for the public campaign once EGLE (the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) officially accepts our application.


Grand Rapids WhiteWater and the City of Grand Rapids meet regularly with state and federal regulatory agencies for both the Lower and Upper Reach portions of the river project.

Much work has been done regarding the Environmental Impact Statement for the Upper Reach:

  • Collection of sediment characterization, bathymetry, and bedrock profiling data
  • Drafting EIS metrics framework
  • Dam risk assessment 
  • Distribution of 30% designs, models and reports for project team review
  • River Restoration coordinated with the Army Corps of Engineers and included a 30% grading plan for in-river features in the Upper Reach to be included in the ongoing EIS process
    • The AHS design plans submitted to the Corps were greater than 30%

With respect to the Lower Reach (Bridge to Fulton), we have reached the following milestones in 2020:  

  • The revised Biological Assessment was submitted to the USFWS on June 9, 2020
    • Following a 135-day statutory review period, the USFWS issued a Biological Opinion on October 22, 2020
  • The WPP/EA was submitted to the state office of the Natural Resource Conservation service on September 21
    • A revised WPP/EA addressing the state office comments was submitted to the state for submission to the National Watershed Management Center on November 13, 2020
  • The Joint Permit Application package was submitted to EGLE on October 30, 2020
    • We are already responding to their list for more information
    • A complete set of construction drawings and impact drawings were finalized as part of the Application package 
  • Completed 2020 mussel, macroinvertebrate, fish and habitat surveys
  • GRWW & the City continue to hold bi-weekly meetings with the RPT to manage the project
  • The City of Grand Rapids is currently negotiating the Construction Management contract with AnLaan Corporation as well as a Professional Design Services contract with River Restoration
    • GRWW was actively involved in the development of those contracts prior to negotiations with the individual parties
  • All construction QA/QC will be coordinated through River Restoration


We currently have commitments of 71% of the private sector funding goal (over $13 million) and a total of 90% of the original $45 million goal.

This investment in our project is immensely important as the work that we are doing is being incorporated as a major part of investment planning in the future of Grand Rapids and Western Michigan.

Even under COVID-19 related challenges, project timelines have largely been adhered to thanks to hard work and collaboration.

No matter what next year brings, we have a lot of work to do and we are prepared to make it happen. We look forward to a big year to come, and we hope you stay tuned to our project status forums – on social media or our website – as we share exciting progress to come. Forward, to 2021!

*Thanks to Jay Steffen for his compilation of accomplishments.

*Here is an interview with Mr. Mackesy on BBC News: