Stream project breaks ground at The Highlands

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Courtesy Blandford Nature Center

A buried waterway will be resurfaced as part of a restoration project for the Grand River.

Several partners on Monday, July 11, broke ground on the unearthing of an underground stream at The Highlands, a natural area protected by Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

For years, water captured by the Reeds-Barlow Drain was sent rushing down a pipe buried beneath The Highlands into Indian Mill Creek, a tributary to the Grand River.

The two organizations are working with the city of Grand Rapids to “daylight” the stream, or bring it back to the surface. Raising this waterflow to the surface will slow the rush of water and help improve the water quality of the greater Grand River watershed.

“In addition to the valuable water quality and habitat benefits, we are excited about the abundant educational opportunities the daylighted stream promises to provide for the local community,” said Jack Woller, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center.

This stream is one of many buried in Grand Rapids. In 2012, the city identified the daylighting of some of these streams as a priority the Green Grand Rapids master plan and produced a report with specific opportunities in 2015.

“For the benefit that we would get, the Reeds-Barlow Drain was one of the best opportunity sites we had,” said Carrie Rivette, the wastewater and stormwater maintenance superintendent for the city. “But at the time, The Highlands was a private golf course, so we obviously didn’t think we’d have any chance.”

In 2017, Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan teamed up to purchase the former golf course. Today, The Highlands features 75 acres of restored native grassland, eight wetlands and 3 miles of trail.

Daylighting the Reeds-Barlow Drain is the next major step for the restoration of the property.

Currently, the major construction work is expected to be completed this fall. At that time, the quieter aspects of the project will begin, including planting of native trees and plants.

The Highlands will remain open during this time, but portions of trails will be closed to ensure visitor safety.

In addition to the city, partners that donated funding and expertise to the project include the Kent County Drain Commissioner, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

“We have a diverse set of public and private partners working together to make this happen,” said Justin Heslinga, conservation director for the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. “It’s been really exciting to be able to pull different folks together to get this project off the ground.”

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