New Map Helps Communities Plan 

Their Green Infrastructure Projects

Through identifying areas around Grand Rapids that have the greatest potential to provide an interconnected network of land and water, the Natural Connections Map of the Lower Grand River Watershed aims to protect the region’s plants, animals, air, water, health, and quality of life.


The Grand River meanders through lower Michigan and the city of Grand Rapids before feeding the waters of Lake Michigan. The watershed of the Grand River—the area of land whose runoff ends up in the river—totals almost 3,000 square miles. The health of the river is therefore connected to the way the land around it is used and managed. Managing a landscape that crosses multiple counties and government boundaries is a challenge, but one that has been taken up by the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds, or LGROW. LGROW’s hope for the watershed is that it can be restored for all to enjoy as a place to swim and fish and as a source of clean drinking water. To accomplish this, LGROW has made a map of the entire watershed, highlighting sources of pollution, areas that could be improved, and natural areas that could benefit from being connected. The Nature Connections Map also shows where green infrastructure, like rain gardens, permeable pavement, or connected green space, have been or could be installed. The map highlights areas in the region that have already been protected as natural lands in the watershed—including parks, game areas, forests, nature centers, trails, and camp lands. In addition, it points out priority areas in the watershed that have the potential to support and connect regional green areas, but are not yet protected. LGROW and its partners are currently using this framework to engage local governments in advancing the critical policy issues surrounded green infrastructure, low impact development, and maximizing green space in the community for people and wildlife.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of green infrastructure
  • Need for farmland preservation
  • Loss of parks and open space
  • Lack of connectivity of trail and river corridor systems


Tributary of the Grand River

One of the tributaries leading into the Grand River. The landscape around the tributary allows rainwater to be absorbed and filtered before it flows on into the larger river. Photo credit: Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

Results and Accomplishments

Thanks to the Natural Connections Map, groups and governments can now see where potential connectivity projects lay in relation to one another. The hubs and corridors identified on the map have the greatest potential to provide an interconnected network of land and water that supports native plant and animal species, maintain ecological processes and services, sustain air and water resources, and contribute to the health, well-being and quality of life of people and communities throughout the region. Work has been started in the area to connect existing wild-area corridors to one another. Ordinances have also been introduced for communities to protect these corridors. The Natural Connections Map shows where these connectivity projects are needed most and allows governments and groups to prioritize their resources. Additionally, the map can be used to determine where green infrastructure projects would be most beneficial to overall health of the Grand River