Finally...spring. Throw off the shackles of winter and check to these 5 ways to enjoy West Michigan.
1. Get on the water
Wherever you are in West Michigan, you're only a short drive from a great (and dare I say, our greatest?) lake. So head out to Grand Haven, Saugatuck, or Ludington, and don't forget all of the amazing things happening in Muskegon.
“The shoreline of Muskegon Lake is really being turned from an industrial property to something that benefits the whole community,” says Wes Eklund, one of the members of Pure Muskegon. “This is an exciting time.”
It’s not just those associated with Pure Muskegon who are excited. Ask almost any civic, government, or business leader in the area, and they’ll tell you the Sappi redevelopment is one of the biggest projects on Muskegon’s horizon, and one that is slated to completely reshape this Muskegon waterfront that, historically, has been overwhelmingly inaccessible to city residents. And the Windward Pointe project is representative of a larger trend happening in the city, Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson explains.
“The biggest change over the last decade-plus has been the reclaiming of the waterfront from industrial purposes to open space recreational, some residential, and some mixed-use commercial,” says Peterson, a native of Flint who moved from Battle Creek to Muskegon four years ago. “That’s been the big focus: grabbing that lakeshore back and repurposing it for the next 100-plus years.”
And even in our own backyard, you can explore the Grand River, just like more than 1,000 eight graders did last year in the Canoemobile program.
More than 1,000 eighth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools will get a chance to see their city from a new perspective next week: from a canoe. A program called Canoemobile
, which brings canoes to urban areas across the country for hands-on learning experiences, is setting up at Riverside Park May 8 to 12.
Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation
is funding the program, which will include canoeing and other educational activities, such as learning about the river, water-quality testing, hiking, and identifying trees. The experience aims to foster an appreciation of nature, boost performance and engagement in school, and build participants’ confidence, teamwork, and relationships with others. Canoemobile is run by Wilderness Inquiry
, an organization that leads outdoor adventures.
Or if you're the curious sort invested in history, development, and the future of our city, be sure to bone up on the revitalization efforts of the River.
“The river revitalization project is so much more than just kayaking,” says Matt Chapman, GRWW project coordinator. “It really provides recreational, ecological, and environmental benefits that will be felt throughout the region.”
When GRWW enlisted River Restorations LLC
, an engineering firm that has revitalized more than 60 rivers across the nation, it became apparent just how grand this river is. “What started as a recreation idea became an understanding of the legacy of the project, from cultural to habitat to historical significance,” says Jason Carey, principal river engineer.
2. Check out the trails
Michigan is home to hundreds of miles of trails, and West Michigan in particular houses some of the best (if we do say so, ourselves). Whether you're hiking, biking, or simply taking in the scenery on foot, Greater Grand Rapids' trails are a not-to-miss destination in spring and summer.
If there's one thing that's true about trails, it's that they typically fall under the radar of the mainstream public, going unnoticed long after their construction projects break ground. Usually, trails are coveted only by the communities that worked hard to produce them. Rapid Growth's Moments on the Trails series
has celebrated the hundreds of pathways that criss-cross West Michigan and the state, as well as introduced you to some new trail projects that are sure to turn heads and make a lasting impression outside of the passionate community of trail enthusiasts.
Rich in ecological, cultural, and industrial history, the early Grand River transported Native Americans and fur traders, floated millions of fresh-cut logs downstream for milling, and in more recent years, has seen a resurgence as a recreational waterway for fishing, kayaking, and pleasure boating.
And while the Grand River has become the focus of redevelopment and recreation in Grand Rapids, it’s also been on the radar of park officials in Ottawa County who have worked for the last two decades to buy property and establish riverfront parks in hopes of connecting them via a 35-mile multi-use trail.
One of Grand Rapids' greatest assets is the natural beauty that surrounds this mid-size city, with amenities that you won't even find in many big cities. From small pocket parks to epic-sized Lake Michigan, you're never far away from a wooded trail, a mountain bike path, or a gorgeous beach. Rapid Growth rounded up ten of West Michigan's best hikes, with hidden urban hiking trails mixed in with cross-country paths that lead to the great lake in all types of weather.
3. Get active
Don't be shy, join a local league! One of the best ways to make friends and get involved in your community is to sweat it out on the court, field, or turf.
Every Monday night throughout the summer, at parks and schools across Grand Rapids, local residents gather to battle for neighborhood pride.
No, it’s not a remake of the famous scene from the cult classic movie "The Warriors."
The Grand Rapids Champs League is a neighborhood-focused soccer league currently in its third season. The league’s mission is to bring neighbors together from across Grand Rapids for friendly games of soccer, while having the opportunity to visit parks and neighborhoods they might not normally frequent.
4. Grab a bite
It's no longer a secret. Grand Rapids is a foodie city. And with plenty of old standbys and new restaurants opening seemingly every month, spring and summer are the seasons to celebrate and eat outside.
Whether it’s a second location, a new iteration, or a new concept entirely, Grand Rapids foodies have a lot to look forward to in 2018. From the recently opened Westside Social Tavern to the promise of Gaia’s triumphant return, here’s a small taste of some big flavors coming to Grand Rapids this year.
Mother nature is certainly making up for lost time with the weather we have been having lately. Forecast shows that we will be enjoying this for some time to come.
So get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather with the best outdoor eating spaces our city has to offer.
5. Just enjoy nature
Take a hike. Into the woods. No, really. UIX will assist you in your exploration of native plant species. Or, if you're more the urban environmental type, parks will always suffice.
Tours at Blandford Nature Center educate children on the importance of natural vegetation.
You don't need an advanced degree in botany or biological science to understand how quickly Grand Rapids is growing, but it helps.
The five wards of our city were drawn up in 1850, demarcated by Wealthy and Eastern avenues to the south and east, and Leonard street, Alpine, and Straight avenues to the north and west. Less than 3,000 villagers were chartered under the motto, “Motu Viget,” meaning strength in activity, a literal call to action that has since seen the boundaries of Grand Rapids expand outward and upward.
Knowing inherently the benefits of the great outdoors for children, many organizations throughout the country have put pen to paper to prove these with facts and figures. Many have even added personal testimony, and have used this to develop programs that are getting kids outside, interacting with nature in greater numbers.
And this is no struggle in our fair, nature-loving city. Grand Rapids has recently been named one in a seven-city cohort of Cities Connecting Children to Nature
(CCCN) by the Children & Nature Network
, a nonprofit designed to reconnect children to, you guessed it, nature. Receiving technical assistance funding to develop a strategic plan for children spending more time outside, the GR Parks & Recreation Department
and Our Community's Children
, along with the mayor and Grand Rapids Public Schools
, are doubling down on efforts like parks, outdoor learning labs and playgrounds. With children at the center of their efforts, the city of GR aims to be at the cutting edge of reuniting children with the great outdoors.
So however you're enjoying this spring weather—even if it's just from your own front porch—Grand Rapids is celebrating with you. Cheers to spring!