Press Release: Hemlock Park Kayak Launch Ribbon-Cutting Held

Dr. Jerry & Rita Conrad Docs Doc Kayak Launch

A ribbon cutting for the new Hemlock Park Doc’s Dock Kayak Launch in Big Rapids was held on Friday, May 26, 2023.

The universally accessible kayak launch, honoring naming rights sponsor Dr. Jerry and Rita Conrad, is one of several much-needed improvements aimed at revitalizing a riverside park in the City of Big Rapids.

A ribbon cutting for the new basketball courts has already been held. Ribbon cuttings for eight new pickleball courts and four new tennis courts will be held next month.

The kayak launch, along with five other additions including a splash pad and playscape, are part of the Hemlock Park Improvement project. The Improvement project committee has raised more than $1,850,000 for the project that has been in the works for more than five years.

“The kayak launch, and other amenities, are a testament to the community’s support of recreation and rejuvenating the park,” said Jon Coles, chair of the park improvement project and assistant professor of sport management at Grand Valley State University. “They made this happen and we will be celebrating them for their support.”

Doc’s Dock Kayak Launch, opening just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, is on the Muskegon River.

“The Muskegon River is a destination point and our best natural resource,” Coles added. “With this ADA accessible kayak launch, we are capitalizing on and maximizing this beautiful resource with an easy in/out, no hassle amenity.”

Coles noted that launching in the Muskegon River can be challenging.

“Getting in and out of river can be dangerous and unintentionally wet and cold,” Coles said. “With this state of art, safe, user-friendly launch, community users and visitors will have a much more safe and comfortable entry. Equally important, it provides another accessible resource for disabled persons in our community. “

“Getting in and out of the water is the greatest barrier for many who want to enjoy the splendor of the Muskegon River,” said Mark Gifford, Big Rapids city manager. “The community should provide every opportunity to those who want to unplug in nature’s wonder.

“This gift from the committee, Jerry and Rita Conrad and other individual donors, ensures just that.”

Consultant Fleis & VandenBrink (F&V) designed the Hemlock Park Improvement project plans. F&V’s sister company, F&V Construction Management, was hired to secure contractors for the design-build project.

“It is very exciting to see the improvements in the park come to fruition and offer the community new and different recreation opportunities,” said Rob Holmen, FVC’s construction manager. “It is also great to be a part a project like this that is such a community effort.”

In 2003, Dr. Conrad’s leadership rallied the community to conceptualize and create the Riverwalk, a beautiful, paved trail along the Muskegon River.

“It’s a privilege and honor to dedicate this kayak launch in Jerry and his wife’s name to bring his vision full circle,” Coles said.

“The kayak launch is wonderful and a real asset to the Riverwalk,” said Conrad, an orthopedic surgeon. “All the improvements are additions and big assets to the park and the City of Big Rapids. This is the first project that uses the river and that’s great.”

Gifford added, “The efforts of the Hemlock Park Improvement Project Committee show the commitment that this community has to making Big Rapids a great place to live, work and play.”

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