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Out and about in Grand Rapids

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The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park just outside Grand Rapids is a 118-acre oasis spotlighting both manmade and natural beauty. There you’ll find the Lena Meijer Conservatory – at five stories tall and 15,000 square feet in area, it’s Michigan’s largest glass conservatory.

People attending the OWAA Annual Conference in June 2009 are sure to discover a bounty of outdoor opportunities in Grand Rapids and throughout Michigan’s West Coast. For instance, Field & Stream magazine designated Grand Rapids as the sixth Best Fishing City in the U.S. (July 2006), while National Geographic’s Adventure Magazine named it one of the “50 Top Adventure Towns” in the U.S. in the waterfront category (September 2007). However, conference attendees and their families should also make time to explore the city’s vibrant downtown where more than 75 restaurants, night spots, museums and an entertainment center are located within walking distance of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the headquarter hotel and convention center for OWAA’s 2009 conference.

Considered one of the most entertaining of the nation’s presidential museums, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a must-see for visitors. The museum pays tribute to the life and times of our 38th president and Grand Rapids’ favorite son. Permanent exhibits include an Oval Office replica, an authentic Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey helicopter and the actual staircase that sat on top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon when that city fell to the Communist Army of North Vietnam. Ford’s gravesite is located on the grounds of the museum and visitors are invited to pay their respects during regular museum hours.

Discover the rich heritage and history of the area along the “Streets of Old Grand Rapids” and in “Furniture City,” two of the permanent exhibits of the Public Museum, located directly across the street from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The Public Museum also features three floors of exciting exhibits and artifacts, including an actual section of the Berlin Wall, a working antique carousel and seven galleries of West Michigan habitats.

Experience the new Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), which opened in October 2007, located in the center of downtown, just a few blocks from the Public Museum. This 125,000-square-foot facility received national media attention as it is the first newly built LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) art museum in the world. The GRAM showcases an impressive permanent collection spanning Renaissance to modern art as well as hosting significant temporary exhibits.

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Alexander Calder’s sculpture “La Grande Vitesse” is perhaps the most famous of the many public artworks dotting downtown Grand Rapids.

Take a self-guided walking tour and discover that art isn’t relegated to museums in Grand Rapids. Throughout downtown a variety of outdoor sculptures has led “Furniture City” to also be known as “Sculpture City.” The most recognizable piece is Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” (1969) which has become a symbol of the city. Walking-tour maps are available at no charge to download at www.visitgrandrapids.org/tour.php?type=visit&tour=sculpture.

Heritage Hill, one of the nation’s largest urban historical districts, is a 10-minute stroll “up the hill” from downtown. Its 1,300 lovingly preserved homes date from 1848 and represent more than 60 different architectural styles. Two of the former homes are now public houses offering regular tours. The Meyer May House is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed prairie-style house built in 1908 for the founder of May’s of Michigan clothing store – restored to its original splendor by the Steelcase Corp. The Voigt House Victorian Museum was built in 1895 for Carl Voigt. This French Chateau is a carefully preserved home that reflects the gracious elegance of the Victorian era.

It’s well worth the short drive to the suburbs to visit one of the Midwest’s most popular tourist attractions, which beautifully bridges the gap between the urban and outdoor experience. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 118-acre oasis spotlighting both manmade and natural beauty. The Sculpture Park features significant works of art within a variety of natural settings connected by waterways, meandering paths and quiet walkways. The work of more than 30 renowned sculptors such as Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol and Henry Moore are featured. Standing five stories tall, the 15,000-square-foot Lena Meijer Conservatory is Michigan’s largest glass conservatory, serving as a tropical oasis throughout the year. Every spring the conservatory houses “Foremost Butterflies Are Blooming,” the largest temporary butterfly display in the U.S. More than 40 species of butterflies and moths make up this breathtaking event.

For more information on Grand Rapids and its many attractions, go to www.visitgrandrapids.org. ◊

This article is courtesy of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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