Rediscovering the Flint River


Michigan is known as the Great Lake State,
but it also has an abundance of scenic rivers. While most visitors expect to find such natural
beauty in the northern part of the state, many are surprised by the Flint River, which
runs through the heart of an industrial city in Mid-Michigan. When we take people paddling
for the first time, inevitably, when they get off the river, the first thing that they
say is, “I had no idea it was so beautiful.” We have an incredible resource right here
in our backyard. Fishing, boating, hiking, biking, swimming, bird watching. You have
the entire “Up North” experience right here in the Flint River watershed. The river begins
about thirty miles southeast of Flint, where a spring-fed lake gives rise to a gurgling
stream, which becomes a major waterway. Over its one hundred forty-two mile course, the
main branch of the river winds through farmland and forests, man-made lakes and small cities.
The river comes to an end in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, where it joins the
Shiawassee River. In many ways, it was the river that fueled the growth of the city of
Flint. From its origins as a Native American village, to a fur trading post, lumber town,
and epicenter of carriage and automotive manufacturing. Unfortunately, human activities changed the
river. In the eighteen hundreds, logging companies used the river as a conveyor belt to transport
logs to sawmills. Before the advent of modern environmental regulations, it was common practice
to discharge untreated waste water into rivers. This happened in Flint and throughout the
country until the late nineteen sixties. Also in the sixties, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
funneled a two-mile stretch of the river through a concrete channel to prevent flooding in
downtown Flint. More recently, problems with the quality of Flint’s drinking water have
raised concerns about the river. A lot of people have some negative images of the Flint
River. They see the concrete channels, they know about the industrial history of the area
and assume that there’s a lot of pollution and danger associated with the Flint River.
That’s just not the case. We have a really vibrant river system that’s constantly improving.
Clean water laws that were enacted in the nineteen seventies, coupled with ongoing local
efforts to restore the river, have put it on a path to recovery. Still, the river is
not immune to problems. Like all rivers across the United States, it’s affected by storm
water runoff. Rainwater and melting snow flush dirt, fertilizer and other pollutants into
the river. These can harm water quality, fish and wildlife. Despite such ongoing challenges,
research indicates the overall health of the Flint River is improving. In recent years,
nearly four hundred species of fish, birds and reptiles have been documented in the river
and its tributaries. And bald eagles, which are an indicator of good water quality, have
returned to nest at several sites along the river. The Flint River Watershed Coalition
is spearheading efforts to preserve and protect the river. Its members want everyone to know
what they know about the Flint River. The Flint River and its watershed are, in a lot
of cases, a best-kept secret and we don’t want it to be that way, we want people to
get out and know about the beauty that we have right here in our communities, get out
and use it and love it and help us protect it.

2 thoughts on “Rediscovering the Flint River

  1. I can't believe I lived in the area for over 25 years before I discovered the kayaking on the Flint River. It's Up North without the drive.

  2. I've lived in the area for 50 years and I've been all over the state kayaking not knowing that 5 miles away there was a canoe/kayak drop-off, pickup spot. I now, the last 3 years, go kayaking all the time. I now leave the house and I'm paddling in 20 minutes, not still driving up north. Tell/take your friends, they'll love you for it!

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