The Grand River – Past, Present & Future

The City of Grand Rapids is named after a hydraulic feature that no longer exists!

In downtown Grand Rapids, limestone lies just beneath the surface of the Grand River. Over millions of years the limestone fractured and cracked into a series of ledges and shelves, and as the Grand River flowed over these ledges it formed the Grand Rapids (very unlike the placid Grand River we know today).

People have been changing the Grand River Watershed for thousands of years. Hundreds of tons of limestone were removed from the Grand River by early settlers in an ultimately failed attempt to tame the rapids and make the river navigable for shipping. Early Grand Rapidians also began building canals and dams to harness and control its flow (although the canals have been since filled in).

Why restore the rapids?

Restoring the rapids and connecting people to the river will transform the Grand River into a destination and distinct riverfront amenity. Removal of dams and restoration of natural channel features will bring back the rapids and aquatic habitats, create safe recreational opportunities and enhance the beauty of the river. It is estimated that expanded recreational use of the river and riverfront development will create an economic impact of $15.9 million to $19.1 million per year.

What will it look like once restoration is complete?

Restoring the rapids will improve the ecology of the entire watershed, provide recreational opportunities, and change the character of downtown Grand Rapids. The proposed 7.5 mile river corridor will be connected to neighborhood communities with bike routes, improved trail systems, public spaces and access points.

What is the status of the river project and how did we get there?

Grand Rapids White Water (GRWW) was co-founded in 2009 by Chris Muller and Chip Richards. GRWW grew from the Green Grand Rapids Master Planning process in 2011 as a champion for River Restoration. 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 restoring the rapids. Through this outreach and community input the project evolved and grew to encompass many recreational, economic and natural resource goals.

Today the City of Grand Rapids is working to unite a common vision pulled from many recent community planning efforts. The Green Grand Rapids plan in 2011, the 2015 GR Forward Plan, the 2017 Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan, GRWW and many others have expressed a common desire to create a River for All. The River for All river corridor planning process led by the City furthers this vision and develops the next steps towards implementation. As part of the project, preliminary designs have been developed for opportunity sites along the river corridor.


Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds
River for all
Grand Rapids 2017 Park Master Plan
Green Grand Rapids