GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For Sandra Spoelstra, the Grand River is more than a peaceful place to take a walk beside: It’s the place where she grew up.
“(I) have been enjoying it from down the Riverside Parkway to now,” Spoelstra said as she walked near the 6th Street Bridge in Grand Rapids on Monday. “I actually live downtown here and look at the river every day right from the window of my condo.”
The new attitude toward the river — including ideas to open it up to more people, create more things to do on both the water and along the banks, and clean it up — is welcome news to Spoelstra.
“Any way we can enhance and improve it to provide more access, especially for those that are disabled or elderly, I think would be a true enhancement to our community,” Spoelstra said.
“What’s the big vision for the Grand River and the lands adjacent to it?” Assistant City Planner Jay Steffen said.
The committee guiding the changes along the river is set to answer that question before Grand Rapids city commissioners on Tuesday.
The much-discussed big plans have been in the works for some time. By the end of the year, the city hopes to submit permit applications to state and federal authorities to remove the 6th Street Dam and other impediments in order to restore the rapids to the river. How long before those permits see any action is anyone’s guess.
The committee will also outline some short-term projects, like turning a weed-choked area along the river south of Leonard Street into a walking path.
It’s just one example of the effort to replace some concrete flood walls with graduated slopes, including landscaping and walkways designed to hold floodwaters back, but also open up the river to the public when the river isn’t a threat.
“That will be a snippet or a glimpse, if you will, of the vision of where this is going,” Steffen said.
The city is also looking at acquiring 15 to 20 sites along the river for future recreation-related development.
The plans will cost millions of dollars. The city will look for government and private grants along with other sources to get the ball rolling.
But what about when it’s in place? How do you maintain what’s now a vision?
One idea that has worked in some communities, including Detroit where a walkway extends along the Detroit River downtown, is to create a conservancy for long-term funding.
“Is that a possibility? Could there some day possibly be a for example a Grand River Conservancy that helps with that?” Steffen said. “It’s a great vision. And so what we find is when you create the vision, the money tends to follow.”