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Heritage Watertrail

By Becky Vargo

Eagles, osprey and otters.

Echoes of historic ferry landings and sawmills.

Bur oaks, sycamores and tulip trees.

These are just some of the things paddlers can experience as they work their way along the 35.7-mile Grand River Heritage Water Trail in Ottawa County.

Although the massive expanse of the Grand River can be scary to some, Ottawa County Parks officials say they are working to educate area residents on everything from family-friendly paddles to jaunts for the more adventurous.

“It’s a big river. It can be intimidating,” said Parks Planner Matt Levandoski. “Knowing about the bayous, streams and open space will help.”

Water trail access points are available at 18 Ottawa County parks located along the north and south sides of the Grand River.

Paddlers can put in for a short jaunt around the bayou or a longer paddle down the river.

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Levandoski said the county’s Grand River Heritage Water Trail website, Michigan Ottawa website, breaks up the river into six reaches or nine Key Trips.

The Key Trips range from a two-mile section between East Grand River Park to Harbor Island in Grand Haven, to an eight-mile paddle from Grand River Park in Georgetown Township to Eastmanville Bayou in Allendale Township.

Parks Director John Scholtz said the upper stretch of the river, paddling from Grand River Park past Grand Valley State University and the Ravines, is particularly beautiful.

“It feels very wild and has less boat traffic,” he said.

The shorter trip would take about 40 minutes at an average pace of 3 mph. The longer trip is anticipated to take about two and a half hours, unless you stop at some of the natural or historic points along the way.

“We have this river corridor in Ottawa County that has a lot of recreational potential,” he said. “We want to make it as user friendly as possible.”

One way to do that was to install universally accessible launches at Eastmanville Bayou, Connor Bayou and most recently at Grand River Park, Scholtz said.

Establishing the website with information on the river, the access sites, GPS coordinates and maps was another step.

Next they plan to add trailheads and way finding signs visible from the river, Scholtz said.

This will help people find spots to stop for a break, use a restroom or have a picnic.

The website also has links to local outfitters such as Lakeshore Kayak Rental and Earth’s Edge for people needing some help getting started on the river.

There are also links to websites with instructions for beginners and serious kayakers.

“There’s a lot out there,” Scholtz said. “We encourage people to get on the river and enjoy it.”

Grand River Heritage Water Trail

Water trail access points

  • Available at 18 Ottawa County parks located on the Grand River

Preferred Paddles

  • Indian Channel Exploration
  • Grand River to Eastmanville Bayou
  • Crockery Creek Exploration

Key trips and distances

  •  Kentwood City Park to Grand River Park, 7 miles, 2 hours, 15 minutes
  • Grand River Park to Eastmanville Bayou, 8 miles, 2.5 hours
  • Deer Creek Park to Bur Oak Landing, 4.2 miles, 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Eastmanville Bayou to Bur Oak Landing, 3 miles, 1 hour
  • Eastmanville Bayou to Riverside Park, 4.5 miles, 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Riverside Park to Conner Bayou,  4 miles, 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Conner Bayou to East Grand River Park, 5 miles, 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Pottawatomie Park to Grand River Park, 4 miles, 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • East Grand River Park to Harbor Island, 2 miles, 40 minutes. 

Water Trail Links – Beginners

Water Trail Links – Serious Paddlers