New pilot program set to launch this spring

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP) and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) are announcing a new pilot program focused on trees and stormwater in Grand Rapids. Recently, FGRP was awarded an $113,988 grant from the United States Forest Service through the Landscape Scale Restoration Project, and is now partnering with WMEAC to engage property owners in the new program which aims to help improve stormwater management and achieve tree canopy goals for Grand Rapids.

Modeled after a successful initiative in Washington DC (River Smart Homes), the objectives of the new program are to increase urban tree canopy coverage, capture stormwater, and reduce the pollution of local water bodies by engaging residential homeowners in efforts to plant trees, build rain gardens, and install rain barrels on their property. Trees, rain gardens, and rain barrels are commonly referred to as “green infrastructure”, or “rain-scaping” techniques. In addition to better stormwater management, green infrastructure provides multiple economic and quality of life benefits to homeowners including increased property values and curb appeal, energy savings, and wildlife habitat. FGRP and WMEAC hope to leverage matching investments from the community to subsidize costs and incentivize homeowners so that the program is accessible to residents with varying incomes.

Beginning in early 2015, WMEAC and FGRP will be hosting a series of “Rain to Roots” focus groups in the Roosevelt Park, Oakdale, and Alger Heights neighborhoods. These focus groups will solicit information from neighborhood residents that shape the delivery and marketing strategies for the program. If you live in one of these neighborhoods and have any questions, please contact Anne Marie Hertl at WMEAC: 616-451-3051, ext. 40, or Yiovanny Cornejo at FGRP: 616-710-8774.

After completion of the pilot project, a number of non-profit watershed partners including (but not limited to) FGRP, WMEAC, Plaster Creek Stewards (PCS), and the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) are hopeful to scale up the program to serve communities throughout the Lower Grand River Watershed region.

The new program addresses multiple environmental objectives that were previously set by the City of Grand Rapids. Specifically, in 2009 Grand Rapids established a goal of achieving a 40% urban forest canopy over the next 30 years. Furthermore, the 2011 Green Grand Rapids plan supported this tree canopy goal in addition to stressing the need for more “green infrastructure” stormwater management practices focused on decreasing urban stormwater runoff, and increasing water quality in the Lower Grand River Watershed. However, improvements to public property alone will not be enough to reach the targets that have been set.

“In order to reach these goals it has become apparent that planting trees and making green infrastructure improvements only on public lands will not be sufficient,” said Steve Faber, Executive Director of FGRP, “this project will provide a way for individuals to make improvements to private property that contribute to the public good.”

In addition to this pilot program, Calvin College, PCS, and LGROW are collaborating with WMEAC, FGRP, and other partners throughout the region to further increase green infrastructure installations in overlapping areas within Lower Grand River watershed through two separate projects. The first of these initiatives is the Plaster Creek Watershed Restoration Project, Phase 2. The Plaster Creek Watershed occupies approximately 58 square miles, all within the metropolitan Grand Rapids area, and is the most polluted sub-watershed of the Lower Grand River. As part of this project, PCS will be working with homeowners in the Alger Park neighborhood to install rain gardens at residential and business properties. Community education events will be held at Alger Park Church, where two demonstration rain gardens will be located. A second project being led by PCS is focused on reducing urban runoff into the Grand River by training urban youth in green infrastructure job skills in two Grand River sub-watersheds, and by assisting in the future development and planning for a regional scale initiative, similar to WMEAC and FGRP’s project.

It is hoped that the combination of these initiatives will help Grand Rapids work toward achieving its environmental goals, and increase the quality of life for the area’s residents.


Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen led, nonprofit enterprise founded in 2008, working closely with but separate from the City, with the mission to identify specific park projects, mobilize people, and generate resources to protect, enhance, and expand parks and public spaces. The Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project is an initiative of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks in partnership with the City of Grand Rapids and key funding partner, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, to engage our whole community in planting and growing a larger, healthier urban forest.

West Michigan Environmental Action Council has been West Michigan’s preeminent resource for environmental education and advocacy since 1968. Founded by a diverse group of concerned citizens and organizational stakeholders, WMEAC is a non-profit, 501C3 organization uniquely positioned to respond to emerging issues and new threats to West Michigan’s natural and human ecologies, strategically focused on building sustainable communities and protecting water resources. Our service area includes the eight-county West Michigan region: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo and Ottawa, with primary emphasis on the Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon metropolitan areas.

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