A River Revitalizes a Community  

The winter of 1996 – 97 dealt many hard blows to the Red River Valley, particularly the communities of Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN.  Eight blizzards, brutally cold weather and twice the average snowfall had taken its toll on the community.  A final ice storm in early April followed by warm weather created ideal conditions for disaster.  Residents and volunteers fought the rising rivers with sandbags, shovels, and courage only to learn this would not be enough to stop the rising floodwaters.  A record-breaking flood crest invaded nearly all of the land area of both cities and forced most residents to evacuate, leaving behind their homes, businesses and community.

To ensure that Greater Grand Forks would be protected against future flooding, the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed the construction of a flood protection system including a greenway, along the Red and Red Lake Rivers.  This project would require an unprecedented amount of cooperation between the public and private sector as well as multiple levels of government.

The Greenway concept was initially proposed by the North Dakota Congressional Delegation. A crucial component of the flood protection project, the Greenway is more than a device for flood mitigation. Featuring approximately 2,200 acres of open, natural space, the Greenway is an an enhancement to the local quality of live providing year-round recreation, educational opportunities, and a source for economic development.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers developed the initial plan for the Greenway in association with Greenways Incorporated, a North Carolina based firm. In 1998 the City of Grand Forks commissioned Greenways Incorporated to build upon the original vision for the Greenway and develop a comprehensive Greenway Plan. A series of public meetings were held with residents from both communities to define a working concept for the purpose, function and composition of the Greenway. The result offered a document known as the Greenway Plan. A portion of the Greenway Plan was approved by the Grand Forks City Council in September 2001.

The Greenway Plan defines a strategy for controlling future flooding and providing a recreational amenity for local residents of the Greater Grand Forks area. The Greenway Plan is a working document used in the development of the Greenway. It is conceptual in the sense that it is more a guide of development rather than the rule for development.

In December 1998, an organization known as the Greenway Alliance was formed to facilitate the development of the Greenway Plan and to establish Greenway governance. The group provided equal representation from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks and was made up of various federal, state, and local agencies. A technical committee is still functioning and although the dynamic of the group has changed, the objective to serve as a technical advisory board to the governing structure of the Greenway remains the same.