“I should have given the lake a second look,” said Sandra Robinson, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Flint River Watershed Coalition. She walked along the shores of Thread Lake with an old friend from the neighborhood and a new friend from the business community. They reminisced with her about all the changes they have seen and hope to yet see.
She scanned the water with a quizzical look on her face, hair and red dress ruffling in the wind. “I can remember my father and his lifelong friend spending many hours fishing and enjoying the lake. My brothers shared my father’s enjoyment of those activities. The one time I decided to give the lake a try I could not understand the attraction. For me, the outing was a fight to stay away from the mosquitoes and insects. I couldn’t see past those bugs to experience the beauty and fun staring me in the face. I turned my back on the lake until a recent revelation.
“It really didn’t occur to me that Thread Lake was an asset until I had a conversation with Barbara Griffith-Wilson who had visions for the lake many years before we became involved in the “Imagine Flint” master planning process and the “Vision for Thread Lake & Adjoining Neighborhoods” planning process undertaken by the Planning & Zoning Center at Michigan State University and the Flint River Watershed Coalition a few years ago. My new opinion of the lake is based on more mature observations. I want people of all ages to enjoy the lake the way I didn’t…The way I couldn’t bring myself to when I was a young child.”
Gary Simons grew up here too and was lost in his memories. He stopped abruptly and pointed to a field of freshly mowed grass with a huge grin on his face. “The pool was right there! We spent so many summer days swimming in that pool. Do you remember the carousel and the Pavilion, Sandra?” Thread Lake once held a regional renown because of the Lakeside Amusement Park along its western shore. The park drew large crowds to the area and is still remembered as an important part of the city’s heritage.
“Looking back, fifty years at a glance, I think about being a young boy growing up on the south end of Thread Lake. Fishing and swimming in the lake were the main events of enjoyment for me and my friends.” He got that grin on his face again. “Enjoyment of the lake meant we had to think creatively sometimes. We would use cement tubs provided to us by a neighbor as boats, then with pieces of 2 x 4’s for paddles we’d go paddling around, taking in the sights and catching fish.”
Gary moved out of state for many years, and when he returned he immediately noticed the change in wildlife species around the lake. “When I was a young boy the only birds I remember seeing around here were pheasants. Now there are mallard ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons, and swans. I’ve seen deer, muskrats, and most recently…a beaver.”
Mike Herriman of Vern’s Collision and Glass Inc. is a member of Business Promoters of Genesee County, a local chapter of Business Network International whose motto is ‘Givers Gain.’ Five years ago, Mike told his chapter about Thread Lake and that he would be going to that site to help in the Flint River and Community Cleanup organized by the Flint River Watershed Coalition. The experience was so gratifying for each of local business leaders that they decided to adopt Thread Lake as the focus of their community service. They have been involve ever since, continually building on their previous years’ effort. Chapter members show up each year with more tools, more equipment, and more volunteers.
Tall and a full head of white hair, Mike Herriman stands smiling ear to ear. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most each year is the expression on the faces of people that are seeing Thread Lake for the first time. Typical first words include ‘How could I have not known about this beautiful lake right here in the city?’ and ‘Why aren’t we doing more to promote this amazing asset of Flint?’”
“Our group believes that as residents and business owners we have an obligation to maintain and improve our community. This project is one of many steps that we are taking to make our community a better place to live and do business in,” Mike continued with a quite resolve.
And improvements have begun. The Flint City Council approved Flint’s first master plan since 1960 on October 28, 2013. One of the subareas defined in the Master Plan is the “South Saginaw Corridor,” which includes Thread Lake and the neighborhoods to the south, north, and west of the lake along Saginaw Street. Last fall, after months of negotiating an agreement, Genesee County Parks accepted responsibility for maintenance of several City of Flint parks, including two along Thread Lake. A massive cleanup effort was immediately undertaken by Genesee County Parks followed by huge community celebrations for residents to get reacquainted with their revitalized parks. The transformation is breathtaking.
Amy McMillan, director of Genesee County Parks, said she also hoped the beautified park and lake could increase property values in the struggling neighborhood. “Real estate that has a lakefront view is the most valuable,” she said. “This could bring back the value to Flint’s real estate. It’ll help stabilize the neighborhoods.”
The South Saginaw Task Force (SSTF) helped facilitate a $225,000 grant for the City of Flint by the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund (MNRTF) for an improvement project at McKinley Park on Thread Lake. The funds will finance improvements to the boat launch on northwest tip of Thread Lake, repairing fences and sidewalks, creating a new soccer field and goal posts, upgrading the baseball outfield, new playground equipment, reconstructing the tennis courts, restriping basketball courts, improving the parking lots at the Vista Community Center, adding a fishing deck, an accessible floating kayak/canoe launch, a new pavilion, and an accessible path with exercise stations.
The creation of the SSTF was spearheaded by Phil Hagerman, the CEO of Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, and includes local representatives from the International Academy of Flint, Word of Life Christian Church, Flint Golf Club, Applegate Chevrolet, Walker Electric, Metro Community Development, Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, the City of Flint, Flint Area Reinvestment Office (FARO), and the Flint River Watershed Coalition.
When you meet the local leaders like Sandra Robinson, Gary Simons, Barbara Griffith-Wilson, and Art Wenzlaff and the local business leaders like Phil Hagerman, Mike Herriman, Marilyn Alvey, and the rest of the SSTF and BNI groups, you will find a deep and abiding dedication to their community. The tireless and hardworking Genesee County Parks leaders and employees, neighborhood and community organizations, and residents know the secret of Thread Lake…it is a priceless gem that, with collective action, will soon have its sparkle and charm back.
We invite you to the Second Annual “Love Your Lake” Community Picnic and Celebration on Thursday, July 23rd from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at McKinley Park (near the Vista Center, 249 Peer Avenue in Flint). Please be our guest and come enjoy the enchantments of Thread Lake and meet some of the public-spirited neighbors and friends. We believe you will walk away wondering how this gorgeous corner of paradise in the city of Flint has been kept a secret for so long.
To read more about the Vision for Thread Lake and its Neighborhoods and to join the team breathing new life into Thread Lake, please contact Sondra Severn at ssevern@FlintRiver.org or go to our website at www.FlintRiver.org.