Stream daylighting begins at The Highlands

Stream daylighting begins at The Highlands

Work has begun to “daylight” an underground stream at The Highlands, a natural area protected by Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. Several partners met to break ground on the project on July 11, 2022. 

As part of the ongoing restoration of The Highlands, the Land Conservancy and Blandford Nature Center are working with the City of Grand Rapids and several other partners to bring a buried stream back to the surface to improve the water quality of Indian Mill Creek and the greater Grand River watershed. 

“In addition to the valuable water quality and habitat benefits, we are excited about the abundant educational opportunities the daylighted stream promises to provide for the local community,” said Blandford Nature Center President & CEO Jack Woller. 

For years, water captured by the Reeds-Barlow Drain has been sent rushing down a pipe buried beneath The Highlands into Indian Mill Creek, a tributary to the Grand River. Raising this waterflow to the surface, or “daylighting” the stream will slow down the rush of water, helping to improve the water quality of both Indian Mill Creek and the Grand River.  

“Plants, animals and humans alike will benefit from the healthier habitat and beautiful scenery the daylighted stream will provide,” said Land Conservancy of West Michigan Executive Director Kim Karn. 

There are many buried streams in Grand Rapids. In 2012, the City of Grand Rapids identified daylighting some of these streams as a priority the Green Grand Rapids master plan. In 2015, the City produced a report outlining where those opportunities were. 

“For the benefit that we would get, the Reeds-Barlow Drain was one of the best opportunity sites we had,” said Carrie Rivette, the wastewater and stormwater maintenance superintendent for the City of Grand Rapids. “But at the time, The Highlands was a private golf course, so we obviously didn’t think we’d have any chance.” 

In 2017, Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan teamed up to purchase the former golf course to transform into a natural area open to public enjoyment. Today, The Highlands features 75 acres of restored native grassland, eight wetlands, and three miles of trail, including segments of accessible paved and crushed gravel trail. Daylighting the Reeds-Barlow Drain is the next major step for the restoration of the property. 

Several groups have contributed to making the project possible. The City of Grand Rapids is a major funder and champion of the project. Other partners who have donated both funding and expertise to the project include the Kent County Drain Commissioner, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds. 

“We have a diverse set of public and private partners working together to make this happen. It’s been really exciting to be able to pull different folks together to get this project off the ground,” said Land Conservancy of West Michigan Conservation Director Justin Heslinga. 

If all goes as planned, the major construction work will be completed this fall. At that time, the quieter aspects of the project will begin, including planting of native trees and plants along the daylighted stream. 

The Highlands will remain open during this time, but portions of trails will be closed to ensure visitor safety. 

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