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Many stories to tell, rewards to reap

Writers who attend the OWAA 82nd Annual Conference June 13-16 in Grand Rapids will discover many stories to tell about Michigan. Grand Rapids, where urban city meets lakeside retreat, offers a remarkable combination of urban sophistication combined with small-town warmth surrounded by abundant natural resources, including nearby Lake Michigan.
The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau is eager for OWAA writers to tell these stories and is offering members of OWAA who attend the conference rosa_park_circle_by_virgil_fox-web1an opportunity to enter their published articles in 12 months of drawings for prizes. Beginning July 1, 2009, and continuing each month through June 2010, writers who submit published articles in the Grand Rapids Editorial Prize monthly drawing could win one of three monthly prizes ranging from $25 to $100. Complete details, rules and entry information will be available at the conference.
To get you started on story ideas, here’s a brief rundown of some of the sites and activities Grand Rapids offers:
With more than 1 million residents in the metro area, Grand Rapids offers all the excitement you expect from a big city. Yet it’s also a region of abundant natural wonders, where outdoor recreation is a year-round pursuit.
The big-city experience begins downtown, where a state-of-the-art convention center, DeVos Place, is connected to several luxury hotels via climate-controlled skywalk. One of these hotels, the Amway Grand Plaza – headquarters for the OWAA conference – was named the 12th best in North America by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine. The Amway houses six tempting restaurants, including The 1913 Room, Michigan’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant.
Across the street from the Amway is the J.W. Marriott Hotel. This is the Midwest’s first J.W. Marriott, and at the time of its completion, was one of just 37 in all the world ¬– ranking Grand Rapids with such international cities as Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Dubai and Jakarta.

A walkable downtown

Just outside these and other downtown hotels, you’ll find nearly 60 restaurant choices: upscale steakhouses and seafood restaurants, exotic ethnic eateries, casual family-style cafes, pizzerias, sandwich shops, and much more – including San Chez, named one of America’s Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants by Hispanic Magazine.
There’s plenty to do before the sun goes down. The Gerald R. Ford Museum, located directly behind DeVos Place, pays tribute to the life and times of our 38th president, a longtime Grand Rapids resident. 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.

A treat for the eyes

Walk another couple of blocks and you’ll discover the Grand Rapids Art Museum. This 125,000-square-foot facility was the subject of New York Times and USA Today articles even before it opened in October 2007. Located adjacent to an urban park that transforms into a community skating rink during winter months, the museum showcases an impressive collection that spans Renaissance to modern art.
For art of a different kind, take a 10-minute stroll “up the hill” from DeVos Place to the Heritage Hill historic district. Its 1,300 lovingly preserved homes date from 1848 and represent more than 60 different architectural styles.
If natural beauty is more your style, stroll the two-mile riverwalk as it winds its way through the heart of downtown. You’ll overlook the Grand River, where anglers cast lines for salmon, trout and steelhead as businesspeople traverse the bridges overhead. Stop at the fish ladder to watch the fish “climb” their way upstream. Keep your eye out for kiosks that relate how American Indians, loggers, millers and railroad workers all made their mark on Grand Rapids.

Shopping, fishing, golfing and more

fishing_in_grand_river-webBig-city amenities continue as you inch your way outside downtown. John Ball Zoo, one of the nation’s oldest urban zoos, is home to more than 1,100 animals. Millennium Park, one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, offers swimming, fishing, hiking and biking. Both are on the route of the Fifth-Third River Bank Run, America’s largest 25K road race, which starts and ends in downtown Grand Rapids.
Antique stores delight treasure hunters with high-quality retro, Victorian and primitive pieces at reasonable prices. Keep your eye out for legacies of Grand Rapids’ past as America’s furniture city.
One of the Midwest’s most popular tourist attractions 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. Walk the nature trails and boardwalk, see Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, visit an authentic Michigan farm garden and marvel at the work of more than 30 renowned sculptors in the outdoor sculpture park.
If you’d like to take a more active approach to outdoor enjoyment, consider a charter fishing expedition on one of the area’s many streams, rivers and lakes. Field & Stream Magazine named Grand Rapids the nation’s sixth best fishing city, so you’re sure to get a great catch wherever you go.

The lakeshore experience

Speaking of lakes: Grand Rapids is the gateway city to Michigan’s West Coast, a picturesque region dominated by the influence of Lake Michigan. This vast body of water casts a unique spell on the climate and recreation of the area.
From fertile farmlands to lush forests, from trout-rich rivers to world-class beaches, from historic lighthouses to glorious Technicolor sunsets – the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan cast a unique spell on the climate and recreation.
Visit charming lakeshore villages, each with its own distinctive character. Holland pays tribute to its European heritage with, among other things, an authentic reproduction of an 1800s Dutch village complete with architecture, canals and spectacular gardens. Holland is also home to the Tulip Time Festival – named America’s Best Small-town Festival by Reader’s Digest magazine.
Muskegon turns the spotlight on the region’s maritime history with naval and lighthouse museums. Shivering Timbers, one of the top-ranked wooden roller coasters in the world, also evokes that proud history. It’s just one of dozens of thrill rides at Michigan Adventure Amusement Park and its 2-for-1 companion park, Whitewater Adventure.
Grand Haven is a classic resort town with a 2 1/2-mile waterfront boardwalk starting at the city marina and ending at the city pier and lighthouse. Saugatuck, one of the nation’s top 10 arts destinations, is home to sophisticated galleries and boutiques, as well as one of the world’s top 25 beaches – a great inspiration for many of the area’s artists.
There’s so much to see and do in Grand Rapids – it’s no wonder Places Rated Almanac named it America’s No. 3 Fun & Recreation City.
This article was provided by the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Photo, above right: Rosa Park Circle, Grand Rapids. Photo by Virgil Fox.
Photo, above left: Fishing the Grand River. Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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