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Middle Grand River Designated as One of First State Water Trails

Water Trail Plan Brings Economic Opportunity, Accessibility to Greater Lansing Region

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced on December 20, 2018 the selection of the Middle Grand River Water Trail as one of the first waterways in Michigan to be a state-designated water trail. A total of eight waterways, covering over 540 miles that flow through more than a dozen counties, were selected as part of the DNR’s new water trails program.

Over the past several months, the DNR has worked on creating a water trails program with the goal of announcing the first designations in 2018. To apply for designation, local water trail organizations had to have established water trail plans that addressed components such as safety, stewardship, historic and cultural resources, education opportunities, funding, signage, management and development, local land and water use laws, and marketing and promotion.

“Outdoor recreation-based tourism is experiencing major growth right now,” said Paul Yauk, DNR’s state trails coordinator. “Designating these rivers as official water trails shines an even brighter light on some incredible natural resources. We fully expect that offering – and expanding – water trail opportunities in Michigan will encourage more outdoor recreation and healthier lifestyles, and also serve as regional destinations that will give a boost to local economies.”

The granting of this designation signifies the water trail provides a quality trail experience, offers clear information for users, and enjoys broad community support. To make the Middle Grand River eligible for the program, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission (Tri-County) partnered with the Middle Grand River Organization of Watersheds (MGROW) to create a water trail development plan for the Middle Grand River.

“The Middle Grand River Water Trail has 33 access sites owned and operated by government entities that provide a variety of experiences for paddlers of all experience levels,” said Fred Cowles, president of the Middle Grand River Organization of Watersheds (MGROW). “Drafting the water trail plan was a collaborative effort of MGROW and Tri-County, along with all of the access site owners and the public.”

Cover of Water Trail Plan with Grand River and Kayakers

To develop the plan, Tri-County and MGROW developed an inventory and classification system of all public access sites and paddler amenities along the Grand River and made recommendations to improve river safety, wayfinding, and emergency response procedures. The groups also met with parks directors, citizen boards, and municipal leadership to learn about each community’s vision for the river, learn how best involve citizens in the planning process, and discuss leveraging river recreation for economic development.

“The connectivity and accessibility of our region's water trails and amenities greatly improve the quality of life of Greater Lansing’s residents and visitors and make our region a more competitive place to live and play,” said Cliff Walls, Tri-County’s environmental sustainability planner. “A larger, vetted state program offers an incredible economic value to the state, and this designation is a terrific opportunity to promote our region as a recreational river destination that complements our broader trails system. We expect the water trail development plan will also strengthen future grant applications for projects aiming to improve user experience, safety, and access of the river.”

In addition to the Middle Grand River Water Trail, which extends 87 miles throughout Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, and Ionia counties, the DNR and the Office of the Great Lakes’ first round of designations included the Central River Raisin Water Trail in Monroe County; the Chain of Lakes Water Trail in Antrim and Kalkaska counties; the Huron River Water Trail in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties; the Island Loop Route in St. Clair County; the Flint River Trail in Genesee and Lapeer counties; the Shiawassee River Trail in Genesee, Oakland, Saginaw, and Shiawassee counties; and the Upper Grand River Water Trail in Eaton, Ingham, and Jackson counties.

Next steps will include finalizing the draft Middle Grand River Water Trail Development Plan and planning for the creation of signage, kiosks, guidebooks, and other resources for the Middle Grand River. Tri-County and MGROW are continuing to work with similar watershed organizations in Jackson and Grand Rapids in hopes of combining these regional efforts to create a Grand River water trail, which would be the longest inland trail in Michigan, and seek its state and national designation.

The draft Middle Grand River Water Trail Development Plan is available at Comments can be submitted to Environmental Sustainability Planner Cliff Walls at The plan supplements and expands the Middle Grand River Heritage Water Trail Guidebook, available at, that was completed in 2015.

2/19/2019 UPDATE: There is an opportunity for public comment on the Plan on March 25, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lansing Brewing Company during MGROW's annual meeting. Register at


Nicole Baumer

Director of Marketing & Community Outreach

Office: 517-393-0342 x 11

Mobile: 517-898-0436

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The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is a public planning agency established in 1956, serving Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties in Mid-Michigan. Tri-County makes our region a more prosperous community by planning for a strong economy, reliable transportation, and sustainable infrastructure and natural resources. We connect local organizations and governments to funding, technical assistance, data resources, and opportunities to discuss trends and challenges affecting the Greater Lansing area. Learn more at

Founded in 2011, the Middle Grand River Organization of Watersheds (MGROW) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the history and natural resources of the Middle Grand River watershed by promoting education, conservation, restoration, and wise use of watershed resources.

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