By: Guest author, Jonah Strayer, Grand Rapids Public Museum High School, Grade 11
In a city full of never-ending noise, there is one sound missing — the rapids. The lack of this sound has created a stifling silence that is covering up the missing feature our city used to pride itself upon. Our city is grand indeed, but we are a city with no rapids. It is evident the rapids are gone, which leaves only one question — Why?
What Happened to the Rapids?
The need to transport logs and utilize the river for resources led the founders and entrepreneurs of Grand Rapids to install a series of dams and remove the large slabs of limestone from the Grand River. The limestone was used in the construction of the city; you can find it all over in the forms of walls, floors and steps. In some locations, you can even see the remnants of fossils and indents of long-dead vegetation. The river also has a series of dams that control the water flow and level, as well as affect fish migration. Although Grand Rapids became a thriving tourist destination, its namesake feature is absent — the rapids are a lost legend. Having the rapids would provide many environmental, social, and economic benefits, all of which our city could benefit from if we were to restore the rapids.
How Do We Restore the Rapids?
The only way to give Grand Rapids its namesake back and to reclaim the benefits of the rapids is to reinstall the rapids and remove the numerous dams throughout the length of the river. This is the sole mission of the Grand Rapids Whitewater; they started a project to reinstall the rapids and restore our river to its previous glory. This project is being designed and run by a combination of civic leaders, outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists and the general public. There is also a large focus on encouraging anyone who is interested in helping, to do so.
Restoration of the rapids will begin with dam removal and the introduction of substrate. GRWW explains the need for dam removal,
Additionally, the dam removal will restore river connectivity for fish and other creatures and improve the river’s ability to transport sediment. Rivers, like arteries, need to be open to remain healthy. Once the dams are removed, fish and other creatures will be allowed to travel freely and access an additional 88 acres of historic habitat.”
Substrates introduced will include limestone, boulders and gravel. When inquiries of why this is necessary were asked, GRWW responded,
The introduction of natural elements will help to restore the river to the state before the industry prevailed.
What is the Impact of this Project?
One of the opportunities this restoration will offer the community is to provide Grand Rapids with new, fun activities. With the addition of the rapids, there will be various activities available including white water rafting, recreational swimming and kayaking, as well as cleaner water.
GRWW’s statement on the usage of the river post-restoration,
The environment is undoubtedly the second most important thing to think about when considering the results and goals of this project. Reintroducing gravel and limestone into the ecosystem allows for better oxygenation of the water.
Improvements in the environment will also allow other threatened species to thrive and make a comeback against the race of extinction.
One extremely large concern of the general public has been Lake Sturgeon. These fish are a core part of our community’s ecosystem and a large feature at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Grand Rapids WhiteWater reassures the community that these changes will only benefit the beloved fish and will not have any negative effects on them, as shown when they said,
This shows that the community is not only engaged in the project but is working to make sure that it is done right.
The effect the WhiteWater Restoration will have on Grand Rapids and the local community is tremendously positive. It appears as if the pros and cons of all aspects of this project’s triple bottom line are being taken into consideration and thought through. Arguably, the most impressive thing about this project is the thoughtfulness and careful planning that has been done and will continue to happen.
Dr. Stephanie Ogren, VP of Science and Education at the Grand Rapids Public Museum shares,
It is this social pressure that continues to push the planners, builders and community to ensure that this project is done right and has a positive impact and results in the betterment of our community.
Source: Grand Rapids WhiteWater: Restore The Rapids In The Grand River 2022, grandrapidswhitewater.org.