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Grand Rapids leaders backing effort to restore the rapids on the Grand River

12:30 AM, Jan 25, 2013   |    comments
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The Grand River in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - In a few years, the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids could be more like it was when the city was 200 years ago -- fast moving and loaded with whitewater rapids.

"This has the potential to re-envision the city," says Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. "I am personally committed to what it can do for our city."

On Thursday at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Mayor Heartwell and Grand Rapids Whitewater leaders Chip Richards and Chris Muller shared an update on their efforts to restore the river to its previous condition.

"Chip and I started with the idea to make the Grand River grand again, says Muller. "Let's restore the rapids. When people told us it's crazy, we kept going."

"We are determined," says Richards. "Somebody told us we couldn't do it."

Boulders and underground formations that caused Grand River rapids were removed more than 150 years ago.

"They took the rapids out for navigation and for the foundations of buildings downtown," explains Muller.

The project leaders say restoring the rapids in the river would benefit the environment, the economy and provide more and better opportunities for fishing, kayaking, rowing and sightseeing.

"Most people we talk to are interested and very enthusiastic," says Richards.

People in the audience had concerns about the impact on fishing and the downtown fish ladder.

"Under our design, the fish ladder will stay," Muller assured the crowd.

Rowers also worried about the negative effect white water will have on their sport.

"Above Ann Street the velocity and amount of water won't change," says Muller. "We are working with engineers to make sure we don't mess up the rowing."

There were also questions about the $27 million it will cost to restore the rapids.

"No city tax dollars" would be spent on the project, Richards informed the group.

"I think it's going to be a good mix between federal and state grants, as well as private philanthropic organizations and foundations," added Muller.

The Grand Rapids Whitewater team does not have a firm figure, but say their project would pump millions of dollars a year into the local economy.

"We have an amazing river," says Richards. "The recreational opportunities are grand. Rest assured we are not going to do any harm to the river."

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