About the Project

In the summer of 2019, UCLA student Sol Dressa worked with Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. and Grand Rapids Whitewater to help shape the planning phase of the river restoration project. Her goal was to ensure the creation of inclusive river amenities through active and authentic community engagement.

Sol used photovoice, a method that provides community members cameras to capture images of importance in their daily lives – in this case, to explore and capture Grand Rapidian’s connection to the Grand River and its amenities.

Community members – many of which for this project were students – also wrote narratives to accompany their photos, allowing them to reflect on their community’s strengths and concerns and create a dialogue through pictures. These are their River Stories.

By Amelia Berg

A group named the Grand River Waterway came up with the idea to dredge the Grand River. Dredging means to scoop out mud and soil out of the river to make it deeper. Their goal in dredging the grand river is to make it accessible to power boaters and big boats who are looking for a way to travel from the Grand River to Lake Michigan. This Idea is still in consideration and has not been decided on. However, dredging the river could cause many issues. First of all dredging the river would cost about 2.1 million dollars as well as another 165,000 dollars in maintenance. Although, doing this would open up more job opportunities because the river would need to be looked over more often as well as be patrolled, but all of those jobs would require more money to go towards the river.

Dredging the river could cause environmental problems. It could possibly harm or injure any of the fish or wildlife living in the river, or there is a possibility of stirring up hazardous substances that are buried underneath the soil of the river. If hazardous substances happened to be stirred up it would be very difficult, maybe even impossible to stop the substances from reaching other lakes and bayous. Dredging could also hurt the water quality of the river as well as lead to an increase in erosion. Dredging the river and making the river available to big boats would require removing the dams, which would cost even more money, but may also affect the migration of fish in the water.

In my opinion I do not think that we should move forward with dredging the river. I do not want this to happen because I care about the environment and doing this could lead to maybe irreversible environmental issues. I also do not want the river be dredged because I have grown up seeing the river as it is and I do not want to see the river to change. I do not want to see something bad happen to the river that may never get fixed, only because people want to take their boats down the river. 

Access Denied
By Dennis Grantz

This fence is near the railroad bridge crossing the Grand River just north of Wealthy St.  This section of the river also has tall, solid concrete flood walls instead of banks, denying pedestrian access to the water, or any place to land a boat were you to traverse the river here in one.  I realize the need to contain floodwater, but this photo embodies the feelings I have about access to many parts of the river – there is none.  How more lively and welcoming the riverside would be were we allowed to get to the waters edge in more places, like you can at the Ford Museum or the Fish Ladder.

I am excited about plans being discussed to replace some of he flood walls with terraced embankments, coordinated with proposals by Grand Rapids Whitewater to remove the dams and return the river to its natural state.  Grand Rapids’ vibrant growth as a city is admired far and wide.  How wonderful it would be to also emerge as an example of the best practices of environmental stewardship and recreational usage in regards to one of our greatest resources – the Grand River.

By Grace Harvey

In this picture, we see a seagull gliding over the water of the Grand River. This serves as a reminder that we share the city and the river with wildlife that deserve a clean environment. If the Grand River keeps up the level of trash that is currently in it, it will seriously harm the environment and the animals. We can combat this issue by volunteering to clean up the banks and waters of the river.

By Mariah Barrera

This picture was taken at the Grand River, underneath a bridge. The image captures the subtle beauty and color of the river, while also keeping some of the environment hidden behind the shadows. I would say that this picture represents my personal connection with the river. I am an admirer of the natural world, especially local. However, my connection with the Grand River does not go beyond just admiring it while walking across bridges downtown a few times a year. I have learned to admire it without having a personal connection such as a warm family memory, or a consistent tradition involving the river. 

Despite my lack of connection, I still have a deep interest and care for what goes on with the river especially when it comes to modification or restoration projects. Though I have the care and concern, I find that I as well as many citizens are left in the dark about what goes on with natural landmarks such as this local watershed. Why is that? Perhaps it is due to my lack of actively-seeking knowledge about this subject, but also a lack of information targeted towards citizens like me. 

Darkness is honestly just the absence of light, and I feel that principle holds true with this issue. People are only dark about this information because a lack of intentional action to keep the public informed with what is going on. Not just those involved, or those who live in a certain community, but all the public. So how can this be achieved? Transparency, and intentionality. Increased initiative to inform and educate all people on what is going on with this landmark that defines the city we call home. With more information and education to the public about this watershed, there is more open opportunity for discussions about what people really want from a restoration project and how it will impact them. In hopes that not only one piece of the story can be heard and admired, but all of it. 

Water’s Way
By Annie Winkle

I get lost in my thoughts every time. “Me-Time” is what my mom calls it. Sitting right next to Plaster Creek, listening to the water ripple through the rocks, this is my favorite place to sit. Right where Plaster Creek and the Grand River meet, where no one can find me. Coming home from school after having a hard day, it calms me. Listening to the water, looking out at God’s creation. I look at Poseidon, my dog, sitting by my side waiting for a fish to jump out of the water. His blue eyes glow in the sunlight.

I’ve always wondered where the river leads. Does it keeps curving through the trees into a magical land or does it lead to the city full of happy, joyful people? I wonder what all the animals are doing and if they remember me. I wonder when something will change around here, if life will get interesting and less dull, if life will get better. I wonder if I could get Poseidon to control the water, that would make life interesting. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder. Every time I get lost in my thoughts, every time.

Then Poseidon jumps up, and runs, into the water. I called after him , “Poseidon come here boy, come here”. What is he doing? Where did he go? Can he breath under water? Then he comes out of the water, gasping for air. His black fur saturated in the water, and drags me in. He wants to play. The worry escapes my heart and fills up with joy. Pure joy. 

I laugh so hard, I guess he really is the sea god.  We run around for hours it feels, I chase Poseidon around until he starts drinking from the river. I lead him out, feeling happier than I have in a long, long time. 

Flowing Down the River
By Marquis Marshall

Water, water flowing down the river, so calm and peaceful. It makes you just want to lie down and take a nap right there. With its majestic fairytale blue color it looked like there was a sparkle in the water’s eyes.

Water is so important to our everyday lives. We take it for granted that we think everyone has the same privileges as we do. But in some areas they don’t have a luxurious of a life as we have.

In general we should feel privileged to have the necessities we need at our fingertips. In Africa, many have to travel miles on end to get water where we only have it only a couple inches away from us.  Many times, the girls have to go everyday to get water for their  families because the fathers often needs to work and the mom needs to work at home.

The reason I feel this way is because about a year ago my grandparents went to Uganda and they experienced kids (mostly girls) fetching water for their families rather than being a part of a school. The one place with running water was the home where my grandparents stayed. 

As they sent me pictures it made my heart break to see girls have jugs on their heads instead of having a pencil in their hand. It made me be more grateful for the opportunities I have here in America.

By Roxy Jacobs

This picture was taken near a boat launch at Riverside Park, which was deeply flooded when I was down there taking pictures. Although a beautiful area seemingly cut off from much else, the city skyline in the distance in a constant reminder that you’re not in total isolation. Despite the peaceful, nature-filled location of the picture, a sign in warning red looms above, warning passerby of the dam further ahead.

This dam adds a sense of disconnect to nature further in the city, and possibly causes harm to the environment itself through flooding and destruction of natural habitats. The dam also prevents things like boating or rafting down the river through the city, making the river little more than a blockade splitting the city instead of an interactive piece of nature. A fix to this problem would be a safe and environmentally friendly removal to the dam with a smooth integration to the river and its natural landscape.