By LIZZY LaFAVE
CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
LANSING — Three years after the Flint River starred in an international horror story where cost-cutting measures led to toxic drinking water, state lawmakers are backing an effort to give it national recognition as a water trail.
The decision is up to the National Park Service.
National Park Service designation of a national water trail means the 73-mile river will likely draw more visitors and businesses, said Rebecca Fedewa, the executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition.
Meanwhile, the Shiawassee River Water Trail Coalition has submitted a similar application for designation for that 88-mile waterway between Chesaning and Holly.
The Flint River is a principal tributary of the Shiawassee, which flows into the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.
The state House has passed a resolution supporting designation for both rivers, and a resolution is pending in the Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee. The lead sponsors are Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso.
Resolutions are expressions of legislative sentiment but have no legal effect.
The Flint River “is home to bald eagles, ospreys, frogs, turtles, muskrats and a wide variety of fish. Used as a main method of transportation for Native Americans and early European settlers and later supporting the city of Flint as a major hub for fur-trading, lumber milling, and agriculture, the river has a rich cultural history,” the legislative resolution says.
The Huron River is a model for the Flint River group because it’s seen more visitors since its federal designation as a water trail in 2015, said Elizabeth Riggs, the deputy director of the Huron River Watershed Council.
“We are also seeing that they are coming from a wider variety of demographics,” she said. “Designation makes the route more of a destination.”
More people traveling to an area means more economic activity for local businesses, Riggs said.
Huron River visitors bring in $53.5 million each year, according to the Economic Impact of the Huron River.
“A national water trail designation can be used to promote recreation and tourism, enhancing economic benefits for communities. The program also opens opportunities to access technical assistance and funding for planning and implementing water trail projects and improving existing river water trails,” the resolutions say.
Water trails are like other park trails with multiple access points, mile markers and directions, but along a river, said Tom Cook, who heads Friends of the Shiawassee River.
He said Shiawassee River enthusiasts applied for national water trail status in hopes that it will create a sense of pride about that river, Cook said.
“The designation was a tool to bring our community together,” he said. “We hope that it brings the appropriate recognition of the work we have done and will continue do.”
The application process has brought together three service groups and 11 governmental organizations with responsibilities ranging from keeping the Shiawassee River clean to mapping out trail activities, Cook said.
The designations are in the final stages of review by the National Park Service, said Barbara Nelson-Jameson, who is the Michigan programs coordinator for the federal agency.
Fedewa said, “Getting the approval from the (state) House was definitely a surprise. To see them taking that on was very special and really reaffirms everything that we have been working on.”
Lizzy LaFavre writes for Great Lakes Echo.
By LIZZY LaFAVE