River Greenway kicks off public input in Allegan

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

(Editor's note: This story printed in the Aug. 2, 2018, Allegan County News.)  Improved access to the Kalamazoo River in the central Allegan County area was the number one priority named by about 50 people who participated in the first Kalamazoo River Greenway community meeting on Thursday, July 26, at Griswold Auditorium.

The meeting was a chance for the community to share ideas on what are the assets and treasures of the river and what opportunities it could offer for greenway development.

It was hosted by the Outdoor Discovery Center Network who is developing a 5-year master plan to implement a greenway corridor of the lower river running through Allegan County.

The greenway plan will be a roadmap for protecting and enhancing natural lands, streams and open spaces within the watershed for public enjoyment and the preservation of plant and wildlife habitat. Where appropriate, the greenway would create parks and open spaces for recreation, conservation, water quality improvement and preservation.

Seated at six round tables, participants wrote their ideas for improvement opportunities on sticky notes, posted them on boards to share with the entire group and the categories with the most notes were placed on the “high priority” list.

The highest priorities along with improved access were to improve the river’s image/perception, clean up, conservation, trails, mill district improvements, education, fishing improvements, river features and history signage and wildlife viewing.

Three more meetings were to be held to receive community input from the Otsego/Plainwell Area on Wednesday, Aug. 1, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Gun Plain Township Hall, 381 Eighth St., Plainwell; Rabbit River Watershed Area on Tuesday, Aug. 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at Salem Township Hall, 3003 142nd Ave., Dorr; and the Saugatuck/Douglas/ Potawatomi Area on Wednesday, Aug. 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at Saugatuck Brewing Company, 2948 Blue Star Hwy., Douglas.

“Because of the river’s unique assets to each area, the input will be different for each community,” said Tracey Nally, ODCN development and communications manager.

For instance, the central portion of the river in Allegan County includes the Trowbridge Dam, the City of Allegan’s riverfront and the State Game Area. Some of the desires for this portion included dam removal and clean up, recreation opportunities in the Mill District, more recreation access, more in-town pedestrian access, water trail development, liveries and fish passages.

There were even suggestions for “beer paddleboats” and “river surfing.” 

The ODC Network has been the lead non-profit partner in the Macatawa Greenway along the Macatawa River from East Zeeland to Holland since 1994. Since then, there has been 19 miles of preserved river corridor, more than $15 million of public and private investment, 1,387 protected areas and 20 miles of pedestrian trails.

The ODC Network’s “Project Clarity” to reduce phosphorus and sediment issues in the Macatawa Watershed was secured by community partners that raised $10 million in grant funding to implement more than 100 on-the-ground projects resulting in a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus.

“Because of that work, we were approached by a group of individuals from the State of Michigan that were led by State Rep. Mary Whiteford and included some DNR and DEQ staff who asked us to consider developing a greenway project on the Kalamazoo River,” said Travis Williams, CEO of the network.

“We’re not here to solve the whole pollution problem in the Kalamazoo River—that is well beyond the scope of our organization,” Williams said. “What we’re aiming to do is align all of our interests so we can put together a plan that will help to find funding, prioritize projects and implement them.”

Working alongside GMA architects and engineers to synthesize the plan, meetings have been held over the past seven months with such community partners as Allegan County governments, conservation districts, chambers of commerce, community foundations, development authorities, businesses and more. The City of Allegan arranged the first community at-large meeting.

The ODC Network has also become a repository for data collection of contamination hotspots including brownfield sites, ecological areas of concern, erosion and sedimentation issues and potential disposal areas for contaminated sediment.

Now in the community engagement portion of the project, the master plan is to be completed by December.

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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