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Monday, May 27, 2013

Angling group has grand plan for Grand River

Article published by Outdoor News

Posted on May 9, 2013

Grand Rapids, Mich. — A community group with close ties to the Grand Rapids Chapter of Michigan Steelheaders is promoting a plan for the Grand River as an alternative to an effort to remove a popular fishing dam and restore the rapids.
Grand River Future Vision wants to leave a fish ladder and dam at Grand Rapids’ Sixth Street Bridge and add new facilities that will allow kayakers and other paddling enthusiasts to bypass the structure, Steve Heintzelman, co-president of Grand River Future Vision and president of the Grand Rapids Steelheaders group, told Michigan Outdoor News.
GRFV officials presented a sketch of the group’s vision for the river at a shareholders meeting on the future of the Grand last month, and plan to meet with city officials in the coming weeks to discuss the details.
The GRFV plan would create a second fish ladder on the east side of the river, and a dam bypass for kayakers on the same side. A GRFV sketch incorporates a pedestrian walkway over the river, as well as 12 feet of drop in elevation between the Sixth Street Bridge and the dam, which is actually closer to Fourth Street in downtown Grand Rapids.
Heintzelman said the proposed alternative is designed to appeal to all river users, from fishermen who would prefer to keep the dam in place and school children who come to the fish ladder to learn about natural resources, to whitewater enthusiasts who want to navigate the waterway unobstructed.
The GRFV plan comes after years of discussion on restoring the downtown rapids through an extensive $27.5 million project promoted by Grand Rapids Whitewater. The Grand Rapids Whitewater plan reportedly removes the Sixth Street Dam and several others with the goal of restoring the river and creating a kayaking destination.
Officials with the Michigan DNR, GRFV, and the state chapter of Michigan Steelheaders agree that one of the biggest issues with any plan will center on how to hold back invasive sea lamprey that come up the river to spawn.
The GRFV plan incorporates a gate in the kayak spillway to prevent sea lamprey passage, while the Grand Rapids Whitewater Plan calls for an inflatable barrier farther upstream, officials said, although the Grand Rapids Whitewater plan is not readily available to the public.
“Another issue we have is a federally endangered snuff-box mussel” that lives in the river and could be disturbed with extensive river renovations, Heintzelman said.
“We’re trying to include things for everybody, because there are a lot of people who use the river,” he added.
Many handicapped and elderly fishermen use the east wall of the river by the dam for easy fishing access, and the GRFV plan would preserve that opportunity, he said as an example of those who could lose access with the Whitewater plan.
In a prepared statement, Grand Rapids Whitewater co-founder Chip Richards said GRFV’s proposal “is an interesting idea and we welcome all contributions.”
“It lends to the larger public process being designed by Grand Rapids city leaders that will engage the community in conversation regarding the entire river corridor downtown,” Richards said in an email.
“There is an ongoing process to discuss and evaluate the benefits and constraints of what we have learned.”
Jay Wesley, southern Lake Michigan unit manager for the Michigan DNR, said restoring the rapids downtown would be ideal from a habitat standpoint, but that could make containing sea lamprey more difficult.
“We think it would be great (to restore the rapids) if that can be accomplished, but the sea lamprey issue may be too big an issue” to overcome, Wesley said.
“The DNR really hasn’t seen any plan yet. It’s all been conceptual.”
Removing the Sixth Street Dam is a concern for fishermen who have trekked downtown in pursuit of salmon and steelhead for decades, Wesley said, but he suspects fish would still gather in about the same area with or without the structure.
“That’s the first spot (in the Grand River) they find high gradient, fast waters … so it would still be a spot where fish slow down,” he said.
Wesley also said the GRFV’s plan seems feasible and “it’s got a lot of positives.”
Jim VanderMaas, a state director for Michigan Steelheaders, said it’s too early to support a specific plan, but he’s encouraged there are a variety of ideas to consider. Learning the details of how the elements of each plan might impact the resource will be critical moving forward, he said.
“I think before I say we can support a plan, we would have to see how it impacts fisheries and sea lamprey control and how it will affect access for all users,” VanderMaas said. “Those are the three key things in my mind.”

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