Kayakers and canoers on the Kalamazoo River may have rough water to paddle through with the possible creation of a white water rapids area in Victory Park.
After a 2006 inspection of the Victory Park dam by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) revealed leakage in an earthen portion of the dam, it became obvious that the dam would need a large-scale repair in the future, according to Mike Herman, Albion city manager.
“(The report) basically said there were some erosion concerns around the dam with trees growing around the earth embankments,” Herman said. “We raised the side of the dam about one foot. (The DEQ) talked to us about having a steel piling put down on the earthen part that was leaking.”
The approximate cost of the driving the sheet piling would be around $200,000, according to Herman, but because the last inspection performed by the DEQ in fall 2009 revealed that the repair had worked, the major renovations could be put on hold until at least 2012.
Led by Keith Havens, Albion College swimming and diving head coach, the Kalamazoo River Committee came up with an alternative to driving a steel piling—the possibility of creating white water rapids in the river.
“We investigated the possibility of rather than doing a big ugly repair of the dam or taking it out altogether and losing the mill race pond above it, recreating it into a environmental/recreational area for the river,” Havens said.
Thanks to a grant from the Albion Community Foundation, the committee hired McLaughlin Water Engineers, Ltd. from Denver, Co. to create an outline for the white water rapids area last year, with an approximate cost of $1 million.
“What they do in this situation is they wouldn’t knock the dam down (but rather) build up the bottom of the river bed below it with a gradual fall of a period of 100 yards or so,” Havens said. “That way they could control the flow through the river and the fish could use it, too.”
The next step in the process to see whether the plan is viable is to perform a hydrological study, which will cost around $70,000 to determine whether the river has enough water flow to support building rapids, Havens said. Possible funding sources include either grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or economic stimulus grants due to the potential economic benefits from the dam.
“All the other businesses in town benefit,” Havens said. “One of the advantages of doing it around here is we do have a quarry right down the road and a concrete company, so we have lots of access to local materials.”
Tim Lincoln, professor of geology and committee member, also stressed the social and environmental benefits from the possible rapids.
“In terms of social benefits, it would provide a unique form of recreation right in town,” Lincoln said. “There are no places in here where you can do whitewater canoeing. It would be a thing that would encourage more people in the town to engage in a healthful and absolutely benign form of recreation.”