Michigan’s state recreational areas are fantastic places for families to spend time and enjoy the many benefits of being in Michigan’s beautiful outdoor landscape. And now there’s even more to love as Genesee County welcomes Chevy Commons, Michigan’s 104th state park. Of Michigan’s 83 counties, only Genesee has lacked a state park — until now. And this is a cause for celebration.
Located within a mile of University of Michigan-Flint and downtown Flint, Chevy Commons State Park will offer trails, fishing platforms, and canoe and kayak launches along the Flint River. It’s just the latest example of how Genesee County is staking its claim as a fun outdoor recreation area, especially for families.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize all we have to offer, because with Flint the focus has been on other things outside of its amazing recreational opportunities,” says Patrick Scanlon, Executive Director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition. “It is beautiful here.”
The area is home to both the Shiawassee and Flint rivers, and these rivers are special because each is a designated Michigan Department of Natural Resources State Water Trails (the aquatic equivalent of a hiking trail) and, more recently, as U.S. National Park Service/U.S. Department of Interior National Water Trails. Considering that there are only 33 National Water Trails in the entire United States, it’s pretty impressive that two are in Genesee County.
Chevy Commons along the Flint River
The Flint River Water Trail stretches along 73 miles and has 24 access sites for a variety of paddling opportunities and experiences — scenic natural areas, small towns, an urban area and portages around dams.
Scanlon delights in taking newcomers out in a kayak. “The first time I floated down the river I was just hooked,” he says. “Now I have six kayaks. People ask me why six, since I can only use one at a time. I tell them ‘I like taking out as many people as I can.’”
And, he says, he never fails to win converts.
“By the end of it I hear the same thing every time: ‘Oh my gosh, that was amazing. When can we do this again?’ You really get that Up North feeling right here at home. There are bald eagles, beaver, muskrats and giant softshell turtles.”
And that’s quite an endorsement from the natural world, Scanlon says, despite the Flint River’s somewhat dubious reputation. He’s ready to set the record straight. “Some people say the river is dirty, but I don’t think that is a fair statement. In fact, a lot of the bugs we pull out are pollution-intolerant. We don’t live in a world that is free of contamination from humankind, and our food, water and air are not perfect. But the river is still very much worth enjoying.”
So many outdoor experiences in Genesee
With more than 11,000 acres of parks and nature areas (or as Scanlon puts it, “gobs of great parks”), there are lots of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Genesee County. Here are just a few.
- The For-Mar Nature Preserve in Burton encompasses 383 acres on the site of a former dairy farm. The scenic grounds include wetlands, fields and forests, a 116-acre arboretum, a nature center and a not-to-be-missed barrier-free treehouse perched 30 feet off the ground.
- At Wolverine Campground, you’d never dream you were so close to the city. This lovely waterfront spot at the north shore of the Holloway Reservoir in Columbiaville is a family-favorite spot complete with boat launch and swimming beach.
- Opportunities for biking, hiking and strolling abound along the Flint River Trail, a 27-mile network of paved, nonmotorized pedestrian paths beginning at the University of Michigan-Flint and passing along the north and south edges of the river. Also worth checking out is the 4.5-mile Genesee Valley Trail, built on an abandoned railway that runs from Genesee Valley Center on Linden Road to Chevy Commons near downtown Flint. More paved and unpaved trails for all skill levels can be found throughout the county; visit Genesee County Parks for an excellent guide.
- Before heading home, stop off at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad. This living history museum, operated by the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission, is a turn-of-the-century enclave of 34 buildings, many dating to the 19th You’ll find the state’s oldest operating gristmill as well as a cider mill, blacksmith shop, old-time barber and general store. Kids love the amusement rides, including the vintage Ferris wheel, carousel and Venetian swings. There’s also eateries, a narrow-gauge railroad, a replica paddlewheel steamboat, and a slew of family-friendly special events ranging from fireworks to craft shows to naturalist talks.
Now that warm weather is finally here, expect to see lots of people out enjoying the Flint River – including Scanlon. “There are a lot of beautiful stretches to this river, and my goal is to go down every single one of them,” he says.
Learn more about all the family-friendly fun of Flint & Genesee at Explore Flint & Genesee. Visit exploreflintandgenesee.org