Those of us in the Upper Midwest spend a fair amount of time each winter trying to keep driveways and sidewalks clear so people and vehicles can get around.

Some of us have snowblowers, some of us have shovels, some of us use salt or ice melt, but then there’s the community of Holland, in southwestern Michigan.

They have a built-in system to keep downtown moving every single winter.

This system started in the 1980s.

Officials in Holland and business owners were trying to think of a way to keep the downtown district moving more smoothly even in the very cold and snowy parts of the year.

Keeping entire streets and storefronts clear of snow and ice is a whole lot of work.

Plus, in those days, downtown businesses were concerned about the shopping malls luring shoppers away from their shops.

What they came up with was a pretty elaborate bit of engineering.

Local industrialist and engineer Edgar Prince suggested that Holland do what some places in Europe had done: run a long stretch of tubes under the downtown sidewalks and streets.

Inside those tubes is water that’s been warmed to about 95°F by excess heat from a nearby power plant.

As that warm water runs through the tubes, it melts the snow and ice that would normally accumulate on the pavement above.

The system covers more than 10 acres, and it’s effective enough that it can keep up with very heavy snow.

A system like this does come with costs: Prince donated a quarter of a million dollars to set up the snowmelt infrastructure back in the late 80s.

But Holland says that the tens of thousands of dollars it spends each year to run and maintain the tubes actually saves money, because they don’t have to buy road salt or send out plow trucks and drivers to clear that space.

The system has been so popular that businesses on the outskirts of the snowmelt tubing have actually put up their own money to expand the system several times.

And hey, if you want to add an auxiliary set of tubes around my place, I’m not gonna say no.

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Snowmelt: A Snow-Free Holland (Discover Holland Michigan)


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