The city of Battle Creek is looking to change the landscape around the 'Cement River' a portion of the Kalamazoo River in the downtown area.

The cement channels that line the Kalamazoo River in downtown Battle Creek have been in place for 50 years. The giant fenced-in cement trough between Dickman Road and downtown Battle Creek, near where a natural winding river used to be. Many residents today can not remember what that stretch of the Kalamazoo River looked like when it flowed freely, but most are aware of why the “cement river” was built. Flooding!

Battle Creek Flood 1947-Ralston Plant-Willard Library Photo
Battle Creek Flood 1947-McCamly St-Willard Library Photo
Battle Creek Flood 1947-McCamly St-Willard Library Photo

The Floods

Floods were a big problem in Battle Creek, with major floods in 1908 and 1947 making a mess of downtown. In the 1950s, former Mayor William Bailey and several prominent citizens formed the Rail Consolidation Board (RCB) worked with the Army Corp. of Engineers to find a solution that resulted in the building of the “cement river”, also known as the Kalamazoo River diversion channel. Roads had to be moved, bridges were built, an entire neighborhood was leveled, and a beautiful river was gone. But then so were the floods. The water first flowed through the cement trough on Sept. 29, 1961.

What Now?

A return to a more natural view of the Kalamazoo River has taken a step forward, according to WOODtv. Battle Creek’s assistant city manager for community and economic development, Ted Dearing, is leading the charge on the Kalamazoo River naturalization project.


The Kalamazoo River naturalization project aims to remove the concrete hugging the sides of flowing waters and widen the river within city limits. The city says plans are to not only keep flooding at bay but to create a more natural-looking landscape for residents and visitors to better enjoy and utilize.

Unlike a natural riverbed, a concrete channel has a limited lifespan. There are parts of the Kalamazoo River Channel in downtown Battle Creek that now need to be repaired or replaced, and that is just going to get worse.

Battle Creek city administrators recently went into a $500,000 agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for technical assistance in the project. Engineers will look into the hydrology, hydraulics, and exact cost of removing the channel. Dearing says the project would also help clear out some of the vacant commercial properties in that area.

What Will It Cost?

According to Dearing, this part of the project costs residents nothing. Half of the $500,000 needed will be taken care of by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while the other half will be covered by a grant the city received from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

If everything goes as planned, the entire project could be completed by 2026.

Take a trip back in time with these newly colorized photos of Battle Creek Bijou Theater

Colorized Photos of Battle Creek's Bijou Theater

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