The Flint River is 142 miles of recreation, natural beauty and precious resources. And the mission of the Flint Watershed Coalition (FWC) is “to protect, promote and improve the Flint River and the Watershed.”
According to Executive Director, Rebecca Fedewa, the coalition has been around since 1997 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1998. “Some environmentally-minded community leaders came together with the same goal of protecting the Flint River,” she says. Funding for the nonprofit organization comes from the C.S. Mott Foundation, small foundations and private donors.
It has been a great year for the FWC, according to Fedewa. “We have the biggest staff, the biggest budget and the biggest set of programs!” This spring will be a very busy time for the organization, with upcoming events such as the Volunteer Monitoring Program and Stewardship Day, which will be held on April 21. On Stewardship Day, volunteers pick up trash, work to clear brush and invasive species. They also assemble and donate rain barrels to community members.
Another effort sponsored by FWC is the Green Project, an educational program that teaches area students to be aware of environmental and water issues. The 2019 Green Summit will be held on May 30 at Kettering University. During the summit, students from across Genesee County will be encouraged to be more involved and engaged with local environmental conservation. “It’s students from the entire watershed!” Fedewa exclaims. “Beecher kids, Linden and Lapeer kids – from all over.” Autumn Mitchel, a new staff member, is taking the educational project to a whole new level, she adds.
When it comes to engaging people, Fedewa says the FWC tries to get people out to the river so they can recognize what a tremendous resource it is. “The river has a bad reputation because of the water crisis, but it’s not warranted,” Fedewa reports. “The problem is not the river. All of the data we have proves that it is within the bounds of a healthy river.”
“Overall, the Flint River is healthy
and it is only getting better.”
According to Fedewa, the Watershed is 1,300 square miles, which encompasses all of Genesee County, half of Lapeer County and touches on five other counties. There are 142 river miles, not counting the tributaries. “Wildlife biologists say the Flint River is the best place in the state for walleye fishing,” she reports, adding that near the Holloway Reservoir in the spring, fishermen can be found staking out spots in preparation for Walleye Opening Day.
During her tenure, Fedewa says she has seen a rapid increase in the number of people using the river for canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boating. Due to that, FWC saw a need for places to rent a kayak. “So many people were asking about this,” she adds. So, FWC has kicked off two new kayak ventures. They are partnering with the Disability Network on iKayak and building a new rental service, Kayak Flint, which received generous support from local business leaders. A four-week pilot program began last fall and a grand opening for Kayak Flint will be held this spring. “We take care of the equipment and the shuttling,” Fedewa reports. There are also two new paddle landings, one site in Lapeer and one in the Mott Park Recreation Area.
Another FWC project is the Volunteer Water Quality Program. “It’s really a fun project. Volunteers get out in local streams with nets and collect all of the little critters and then identify them,” Fedewa shares. “This gives us a good sense of the water quality and the habitat.” The score for local streams is trending up, she adds. All of the data is shared with the DEQ and the DNR. The DEQ does its own testing to confirm the results. “Overall, the Flint River is healthy and it is only getting better,” states Fedewa.
Last fall, the FWC applied with the State of Michigan to designate the Flint River as a State Water Trail. “They accepted eight rivers and the Flint River is one of them. We met all of the standards and will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony to acknowledge the designation,” Fedewa reports. They have also applied to become a National Water Trail and are still waiting for an answer. “It helps open the door for funding if we get the designation,” Feweda says.
The FWC works with the Flint Visitors Bureau to promote the Flint River. “Our goal is to make the Flint River a destination,” says the executive director. And, there are some interesting paddling opportunities in Downtown Flint. “Tenacity Brewing and Lapeer Brewing have collaborated with businesses to make it a great paddling experience,” says Fedewa. “We want it to be a community effort. There is a lot of interest in the Flint River and we want to keep that going. Communities are recognizing the value of the river and the importance of preserving that resource to make sure it is there for future generations.”
Photo Provided by FWC