Fish Ladder Park – Grand Rapids, Michigan - Atlas Obscura

Fish Ladder Park

An angular maze of concrete in Grand Rapids acts both as public art and as a staircase for fish traveling upstream. 


With the construction of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Sixth Street Dam the migratory population of salmon, steelhead, and even carp were suddenly unable to undertake their yearly upstream journey. The concrete fish ladder at Fish Ladder Park was created to give the swimmers a leg up, and provide visitors with a chance to see the leaping fish in action.

Built in 1974, the interactive public installation seems to have been created as much for those on land as those in the water. Designed by artist Joseph Kinnebrew, the brutalist installation lets the migrating fish travel up a winding set of concrete steps that are set up essentially as a low-grade waterfall. While the fish shimmy upstream, occasionally jumping out and over the water in short bursts, human onlookers can gather on the walkways and viewing points that have been built over and around the ladder to witness the weird behavior.

The fishermen and fisheries along the Grand River depend on the Sixth Street Dam to provide them with a steady supply of stock, so it is not likely going anywhere anytime soon. Which may be just as well as it would eliminate the spectacle of the jumping fish.  

Different species of fish make use of the ladder during different parts of the year, so if you are a discerning fish watcher, be sure to check before going to see the site. 

Update as of December 2019: A project is underway to remove some of the dams around Grand Rapids. The sixth street dam and the fish ladder are slated for partial removal. 

Know Before You Go

From US-131 in Grand Rapids, take the Leonard Street Exit. Drive east on Leonard to Front Avenue. Turn right (south) and continue to the end of the street. Turn left (east) into the parking lot next to the fish ladder.

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