The Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) Board of Advisors today approved a $45 million investment priority plan for trail and riverfront projects that support ongoing efforts to reestablish the Grand River corridor as a thriving community asset that’s more accessible, safe and welcoming for all residents in Grand Rapids and Kent County.

“This initiative is the most significant one-time investment in trail-building, outdoor recreation and community health in the region’s history,” said DGRI President/CEO Tim Kelly.

“Working together with our partners at the State, local government and philanthropy, we are significantly catalyzing the effort to build a more beautiful, active and connected Grand River corridor that will benefit Grand Rapidians for generations to come.”

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) is the organization responsible for city building and place management in Downtown Grand Rapids, which anchors one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation.

DGRI continues to collaborate with a wide array of partners to harmonize and implement community-determined plans such as GR Forward, River for All, Connect Ada and the Kent County Parks, Trails & Natural Areas Master Plan.

These plans clearly and consistently call for, among other things, building key trail connections that connect neighborhoods and communities, significantly expand public access to parks and the Grand River, increase recreational opportunities and establish metro Grand Rapids as a hub in the regional nonmotorized trail system.

The recently released Grand River Equity Framework also prioritizes a more accessible river corridor, specifically rehabilitating and expanding the Oxford Trail as well as developing a plan to advance the Plaster/Silver Creek Greenway concept. Both projects would strengthen the connection of Grand Rapids’ First and Third Wards to the river corridor and the regional recreational trail system.

The State of Michigan in March 2022 awarded DGRI a significant grant to help catalyze implementation of these community plans and grow the Grand River Greenway in Grand Rapids and Kent County.

A greenway is a connected corridor of parks and green spaces used for recreation and urban commuting.

In West Michigan, the idea for the Grand River Greenway originated in Ottawa County, which for the past two decades has steadily worked to acquire riverfront property, expand public parks and build the Idema Explorers Trail that ultimately will connect Lake Michigan and Grand Haven to Millennium Park and Grand Rapids.

Building on this trail blazing effort, the DGRI Board endorsed the strategic objective of utilizing Greenway grant funding to help catalyze completion of a central “backbone” trail that follows the Grand River corridor from Millennium Park, through the City of Grand Rapids, across Kent County, Plainfield, Cascade, Ada and Vergennes Townships to the City of Lowell.

Another key organizing principle is to advance projects that promote community health and safety by expanding access to parks, trails and outdoor recreation, particularly for low-income residents and historically marginalized neighborhoods adjacent to the waterway.

To advance these objectives, the Board approved an initial series of infrastructure investments to make critical trail improvements. More specifically, the projects recommended for funding include:

  • Supporting construction of an approximately 1-mile trail that closes a gap in the riverfront trail system adjacent to the Creston neighborhood from Leonard to Ann Street on the north side of Downtown. This City of Grand Rapids leads this project.
  • Supporting construction of an approximately 23-mile trail that closely follows the Grand River from the White Pine Trail in Plainfield Township, across Kent County to Lowell. Kent County leads this project in partnership with the through townships.
  • Building a safer trail connection over the Grand River at Knapp Street. Kent County and Ada Township are coordinating this project.
  • Supporting redevelopment of the riverfront at the Grand Rapids Public Museum property to improve the trail user experience and increase access to the Grand River. The Grand Rapids Public Museum leads this project in partnership with the City of Grand Rapids.
  • Supporting construction of an approximately 1-mile trail that closes a gap in the riverfront trail system from Fulton to Wealthy Streets on the south side of Downtown. This City of Grand Rapids leads this project.
  • Rehabilitating and extending the Oxford Trail facility connecting the Grand River with the Black Hills, Roosevelt Park and Westside neighborhoods. The City of Grand Rapids leads this project. The City’s recently proposed FY 2024 budget also includes funding for a community-driven process to plan and design a new proposed trail section linking the Oxford Trail to the Plaster Creek Trail on the City’s southeast side.

When completed, these nonmotorized trail building initiatives will complete a continuous, nonmotorized, off-street trail following the Grand River across Kent County.

This continuous trail will connect residents to nearly 3,500 acres of riverfront greenspace in Grand Rapids and Kent County as well as the broader regional recreational system, including Lake Michigan, the White Pine Trail State Park and the Meijer Rail Trail.

“These collaborative trail-building efforts offer more than just a path,” Kelly said. “Public investment in greenways and urban nonmotorized trail systems are a proven strategy to increase quality of life and promote community health, wellness and culture for neighborhoods, cities, regions and their residents.”

Greenways, particularly in urban centers, also are proven drivers of economic development. Expanding the Grand River Greenway and connecting trails in Grand Rapids’ urban core is expected to catalyze private investment, drive redevelopment of vacant real estate, promote housing construction, establish new places for community businesses to grow and thrive, and unlock a wide variety of both short- and long-term economic opportunities.

The state awarded DGRI $55 million to grow the Grand River Greenway in Grand Rapids and Kent County. The Board today approved an initial investment priority plan that totals $45 million and holds $10 million in a short-term reserve to respond to additional opportunities or unforeseen needs as priority projects advance.

The DGRI Greenway investments will combine with nearly $70 million in additional government and philanthropic funding already committed to support Grand River Greenway-related projects in Grand Rapids and Kent County.

The river corridor revitalization partners anticipate implementation of these trail building projects will begin later this year and occur over the next 3-4 years.