How important is the Grand River to you? What do you really know about the river? The Grand River is a stretch of water that runs through several cities and counties in west Michigan that eventually runs into Lake Michigan. This past spring, West Michigan was quite aware of how the Grand River can react to torrential rain and how fast the water can quickly rise. With certain unexpected acts of Mother Nature the river can attract items of debris that before never existed.  While new debris in the river can cause additional pollution and damage, existing debris needs the help from volunteers to remove thousands of pounds of debris.

Over the past decade, the Mayor and a dozen volunteers from WMEAC started to clean up the river bank in Grand Rapids. This year was the 10th Anniversary of the Mayors Grand River Clean up, hosted by Grand Rapids Mayor Heartwell, Walker Mayor Holt, Wyoming Mayor Poll, and Grandville Mayor Buck.  It has now grown to hundreds of volunteers, with last year being a record of near 700 volunteers that cleaned over 20,000 pounds of refuse.  In the 2013 cleanup, a new record of nearly 900 volunteers gave their time and energy to make the river clean and esthetically pleasing. With the mayors and their communities of people, around 30 miles of the river banks are cleaned annually and has become one of West Michigan largest growing volunteer efforts.

Grand Rapids may hold titles for Art Prize, Beer City USA, several World Records, yet the excitement that really occurs is with the community outreach.  Who would have thought a dozen volunteers and one Mayor would start such a trend?  Such commitment really shows just how much the community of Grand Rapids loves the river and wants to keep it clean.

What can be the next step in Grand River Clean up?  How will the cities be able to organize over a thousand volunteers that will be participating next year? The Grand River is 252 miles in length.

Though we may recognize the river to be localized, it stretches from Grand Haven through Grand Rapids, Lansing, and down along Jackson.  30 miles of cleanup is really just a start, but it’s a healthy start and the effort could start expanding into area parks and playgrounds. Many other community areas are also affected by high waters of the river and other debris that require many of our city resources to continually maintain and keep at sanitary levels for families to enjoy. The cities efforts require funds and when the funds get low so do the standards.  That’s where I believe communities have the power to make change and to share a common purpose.

The Grand River has many purposes for recreation and activities.  However, as history has shown, it can also cause a great deal of debris to gather along its shores.  Grand Rapids continues to be the beacon of ingenuity that other cities and states are taking notice of. I see the Grand River Clean Up as just the start of what will become record breaking efforts to have one of the cleanest cities in the state. It’s important to remember that it only takes a few to mobilize hundreds. Let’s keep the excitement growing!

Blog post by GRAPE Social Media Contributor Ryan Elwell

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