Kayaking for a monster of a cause

Oct. 5, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For many who came out to see the sculpture of Nessie along the Grand River, they were greeted with a surprise.

Members of the Grand Rapids Whitewater organization took to their kayaks, canoes and boats on Sunday afternoon to explore the ArtPrize entries seen in and along the river.

However, it’s not the fact that they were seeing art that the group wants people to know. It’s the fact that they were there in the river to begin with.

Roger Starring, board member for the organization, helped coordinate the event. He said that he hoped that those who gathered along the riverbanks and on the blue pedestrian bridge will see the downtown section of the Grand River in a positive light.

“Putting a large group of kayaks out there having fun might just get people to pause and think about the value of that,” he said. “It’s just one more reason to come downtown.”

The Grand Rapids Whitewater, or GRWW, according to their web site, is dedicated to “achieve the dream of putting rapids back in the Grand for everyone’s enjoyment.”

The GRWW has been lobbying the city of Grand Rapids for a whitewater park along the city’s river. According to Starring, the park may become a reality within two years.

“Most people support us once they understand we aren’t out to take anything away from the existing users,” Starring said of other outdoorsmen along the river, including waterskiiers and fishers. “Everyone seems to understand that this can’t be anything but good for the city.”

Among the obstacles in front of the group right now is money. Starring said that much work is being done into what is possible to help create a park and how to finance it, but he has every confidence that the project will continue forward.

Another obstacle is the fear that a whitewater park would take away valuable space and resources from fishermen. Chip Richards, founder of the GRWW, told users on the group’s Facebook page that they are not seeking to compete with the fishermen.

“We are pro fishermen,” said Richards on the Facebook page. “We want to add to the enjoyment of the river and improve its image. We may even propose the instillation of a fish weir below the white water channel.”

Richards also clarified that he does not support the removal of the 4th Street Dam, which had been suggested in the past to clear the way for a whiteriver park in the location.

According to Starring, another misconception the GRWW is hoping to disprove is the notion that the Grand River water is anything but clean. “The storm water sewage releases of the past have created that perception,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen anymore, and hasn’t for a long time.”

“The water is clean!” said Starring.

For the Sunday afternoon outing, Starring said that it seemed like a natural idea. “Four out of the ten finalists had projects that were adjacent to, or focused on the river,” he said. By going out on the river, they could take in a different view while promoting their sport.

While most people who saw the GRWW on Sunday afternoon took pictures, one Twitter user, @lisa_lisa616, wrapped up the organization’s mission on Sunday afternoon in a simple sentence:

“Kinda of a cool way to view ArtPrize,” she said.

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