A map of the Grand River
|- location||Somerset Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan|
|- location||Grand Haven, Michigan|
|Length||252 miles (406 km)|
|- average||3,800 cubic feet per second (110 m3/s)|
|Basin size||Grand River Watershed|
The Grand River is the longest river in the U.S. state of Michigan. It runs 252 miles (406 km) through the cities of Jackson, Eaton Rapids, Lansing, Grand Ledge, Portland, Ionia, Lowell, Grand Rapids, and Grand Haven. Native Americans who lived along the river before the arrival of the French and British called the river O-wash-ta-nong, meaning Far-away-water, because of its length.
As the glacial ice receded from what is the central Lower Peninsula of Michigan around 11,000 years ago, the Maple River and lower Grand River served as a drainage channel for the meltwater. The channel ran east to west, emptying into proglacial Lake Chicago, the ancestor of Lake Michigan. Today the Grand River rises in Somerset Township in Hillsdale County and Liberty Township in Jackson County, and flows through Jackson, Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Ionia, Kent, and Ottawa counties before emptying into Lake Michigan. Its watershed drains an area of 5,572 square miles (14,430 km2), including 18 counties and 158 townships. Tributaries of the river include (beginning near river source and travelling downstream): Portage River, Red Cedar River, Looking Glass River, Maple River, Bellamy Creek, Flat River, Thornapple River, Rogue River, Coldbrook Creek, Plaster Creek, Bass River, and Crockery Creek. The Grand River carries an average 3,800 ft³/s (108 m³/s). It has several dams along its length but is a trout and salmon stream for much of its length. It is estimated that 22% of the pesticide usage in the Lake Michigan watershed occurs in the Grand River drainage, which accounts for only 13% of the lake's total watershed. Much of the basin is flat, and it contains many swamps and lakes.
Every ten years the river is celebrated by an expedition along the entire length. The journey of discovery explores and documents the problems and opportunities of Michigan's Grand River and its watershed. Grand River Expedition 2010 (GRE2010) included a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, technicians, historians, educators, students, environmental professionals, boaters and anglers, civic and business leaders, local, state and federal government representatives, writers, visual media specialists and private individuals from the general public. GRE2010 began in Liberty Center south of Jackson on July 14, continued down the 225 navigable miles through Eaton Rapids, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and ended at Grand Haven on Lake Michigan on July 26. Traditionally, some participants make the entire trip, camping along the way, while others paddle shorter stretches of the river. The watershed analysis and teaching team conducted studies and explains resulted as it moves downstream. The expedition offered presentations, displays and demonstrations to communities along the river in an attempt to interact with the river, its tributaries, and its people throughout the watershed. One of its stops was in Portland, at the riverside Verlen Kruger Memorial pavilion. Kruger traveled over 100,000 miles (160,000 km) by paddle, was the 1990 and 2000 GRE Rivermaster, and counted the Grand as his favorite river.
A 500-passenger dinner cruise ship modeled after a riverboat operates on the river in Lansing.
Grand Rapids was built on the site of a mile long rapids on the Grand River, although these have disappeared after the installation of a run-of-river dam in 1866 and five low-rise dams during a river beautification project in 1927. A fish ladder installed in 1974, designed by artist Joseph Kinnebrew, nearly replaces the location of the West Side Water Power Canal headgates removed in 1959/60. In recent years, Grand Rapids Whitewater is working toward restoring the rapids to the river in Grand Rapids.
About 2,000 years ago, the Hopewell Indians settled along the Grand River near present-day Grandville. Their presence is still seen in the preserved burial mounds. By the late 17th century, the Ottawa had set up villages on the west bank of the Grand River at the site of what would later become Grand Rapids. For these peoples, as well as for later explorers, fur traders and settlers, river served as an important navigational trade route.
It formed part of a major demarcation of land ceded by Native Americans enabling U.S. settlers to legally obtain title to land in the area. In the 1821 Treaty of Chicago, the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi ceded to the United States all lands in Michigan Territory south of the Grand River, with the exception of several small reservations.
The Grand was important to the rapid development of West-Central Michigan during the 1850s to 1880s, as logs from Michigan's rich pine and oak forests floated down the Grand River for milling. After the Civil War, many soldiers found jobs as lumberjacks cutting logs and guiding them down the river with pike poles, peaveys, and cant hooks. The men wore bright red flannel, felt clothes, and spiked boots to hold them onto the floating logs; these boots chewed up the wooden sidewalks and flooring of the local bars, leading one hotel owner to supply carpet slippers to all river drivers who entered his hotel. The "jacks" earned $1 to $3 per day and all the "vittles" they could eat, which was usually a considerable amount.
In 1883, heavy rains during June and July brought water levels on the river to record highs. The flooding was bad enough, but the rising water overwhelmed lumbering booms--river enclosures used to sort and organize logs for transport to saw mills--in Lowell, Grand Rapids as well as Grand Haven and Robinson townships. As water rose, the logs escaped the enclosures, much like cattle fleeing stockyards. Soon, Kent and Ottawa counties had a stampede, as millions of logs flowed uncontrolled down the river and became trapped in bends or against bridges. The result was a logjam of incredible proportions that clogged the river for 47 miles (10 million Feet of logs trapped in Lowell, 95 million Feet of logs trapped in the "Big Bend" northeast of Grand Rapids, 80 million Feet of logs trapped in Ottawa County).
Grand River Avenue (or Grand River Road) was built early in the settlement of Michigan and runs from the head of navigation on the Grand to downtown Detroit. It formed an important part of an early route between Chicago and Detroit, along with the Grand itself, from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven, and Lake Michigan.
Two of Grand Valley State University's campuses are located on the banks of the Grand River. The main campus in Allendale and the Pew Grand Rapids campus in Grand Rapids both border the river in separate locations miles from each other. The Grand is home to GVSU's rowing team, and the crew boathouse sits parallel to the river on the Allendale campus's north side.