Category Archives: Living in Flint Michigan

Parks, Recreation, and Disc Golf

Genesee County parks cover more than 11,000 acres, so there’s never an excuse not to go out and get some fresh air. Besides the usual fun of picnics, hiking, and walking the dog, there are many leisure sports that don’t require much equipment and are a ton of fun and good for meeting new friends. You don’t even need to join a league—just get some people together and play a game!

1. Ultimate (Frisbee)


When you chance to come upon a game of Ultimate in the park, at first you might think it’s a leisurely game of catch with the disc. Then, suddenly, fast action takes over as a few of the players suddenly bolt down the field. The game goes from a dead stop to a full sprint, much like soccer. And that’s why it’s awesome. If you want a great way to get in shape, get some friends together and play Ultimate. Check out the official rules here at the USA Ultimate website.

What it’s most like: soccer, or schoolyard rules football.
What you’ll need: a frisbee or official disc, and eight small cones for marking the field.
Number of players: Official is seven on a team; you really need at least four on a side to make it interesting.
Athletic level: Intermediate to advanced. You don’t have to be a college intramural hero, but it helps.
What to avoid: Heavy or restrictive clothing. You’ll want to really move when you’re playing this one.

2. Disc Golf


It’s a bit like golf, but adapted for casual play with a frisbee. There are several dedicated courses in the area, but frankly, playing in just about any park is as simple as choosing which tree to aim for and seeing who hits it in the fewest throws. Watch out for passerby, though…

What it’s most like: playing catch with a frisbee, or video game golf
What you’ll need: a frisbee, or an official set of discs if you’re serious
Number of players: Up to four in a party is customary, but they say that in regular golf, too…
Athletic level: Casual

3. Bag Toss


Since I can never bring myself to utter the word “Cornhole” in public, let’s just call this one Bag Toss, ok? If you have been here long, you’ve seen/heard/been bewildered by this game which looks easy to play, but really isn’t easy to master.

What it’s most like: horseshoes, or darts
What you’ll need: a bag toss set, instructions here. You can also purchase them in sporting goods stores
Number of players: Two teams of two
Athletic level: Except for your shoulder and/or elbow? Nil

4. WIFFLE Ball


Yes, there are people who take it much too seriously to the point of mistaking it for the real thing. But c’mon, it really isn’t complicated. Just get that little plastic bat and ball, a few friends, and act like you’re playing baseball, but without breaking a sweat. It’ll take you right back to being a kid again. Find a clear spot where you won’t run into any trees, and avoid dogs that will chase down the ball and steal it while you’re playing. Be prepared for 9 year old boys to come up to you and ask to play, too. Always remember: as a resident of the United States of America, if a child under the age of 12 ever approaches you and asks to join your WIFFLE ball game, you are obligated to allow them to play AND to bat next. Rules is rules. Speaking of which, the official rules are at the WIFFLE company website, and this league has also established some more serious gameplay rules, if you really care that much…

What it’s most like: WIFFLE ball. There is no substitute
What you’ll need: I think you can guess that by now
Number of players: Bare minimum is two per team, better with 3—5 on a side
Athletic level: Intermediate. Hand-eye coordination is a big one
What to avoid: Taking it too seriously

5. Tip HORSE


Let’s face it, unless you’re practicing for the team, playing HORSE is pretty boring. So, to speed things up, try this version where only tips and free-throws count. You can run your butt off, and the shots are wild and make great Instagram photos.
What it’s most like: a wild game of half-court basketball
What you’ll need: a basketball, and a half-court to play it on with no innocent bystanders to plow over
Number of players: Three is ok, but better with four to seven players. Eight or more people should really just get two games going
Athletic level: From casual to intense, just depends on how bad you wanna WIN

The gameplay
1. Scoring is reverse of standard HORSE. Letters are awarded for made shots, first player to get all letters wins.
2.Choose an order of play. This must be followed strictly during the game. Choose what is considered out of bounds and other ground rules (for play off of fences, obstacles, etc.)
3.First player shoots from predetermined spot (usually free-throw line) and intentionally “bricks” the ball. It must hit backboard and/or rim.
4.The next player in line has only two bounces to “tip” the ball and attempt to make the shot. IMPORTANT: A “tip” is when the ball is caught and shot again while the player is in the air. (This is where the hustle comes in.)
4a. If the shot goes in, a letter is awarded to the player and he is allowed to attempt free-throws (set shots). Each made up to three in a row each receives another letter. Missed shot that catches backboard and/or rim resumes tip play as in #4. Airball removes a letter.
4b. If shot misses and catches backboard and/or rim, play continues to next player who attempts a tip.
4c. If tipping player cannot attempt a tip within two bounces from previous rebound, or if player airballs his tip, it removes a letter and player must brick from free-throw line to set up play for next player in line.
5. First player to spell HORSE wins.
6. There are no negative letters. A player who has no letters and airballs, etc. stays at no letters.
7. Since hitting the backboard and/or rim is built into the rules, a bona fide shot attempt can include intentionally slamming the ball off the goal to make it really tough for the next player.

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GO! Hit the Trails this Summer

The DNR estimates that our 12,500 miles of Michigan state-designated trails leads the nation, so there’s probably a trail close to you. Tune up your bikes, bring sunscreen, your reusable water bottle and some snacks, and hit the trails!

Flint River Trail

Downtown Flint to Genesee Recreation Area: 24 miles

VIEW TRAIL MAP

Development of this trail network gained momentum in the early 1990s when the Friends of the Flint River Trail formed to host Sunday afternoon bike rides, organize trail cleanups, and advocate for its expansion.

Really a network of 24 miles of paved paths, the main terminus is located at UM Flint. Passing along the north and south edges of the Flint River, the trail has two spurs that connect with Mott Community College and Kettering University.

The original trail from downtown to Carpenter Road was established in the 1980s, so watch out for potholes: some of the surfaces are a bit patchy as you travel along the downtown stretch. The current path winds north along the river through several parks and natural areas to the village of Genesee at the north side of Mott Lake where you’ll spot Stepping Stone Falls. From here, the newest section of the trail (completed in 2015) continues through Genesee Recreation Area. Along with the planned Grand Traverse Greenway Trail, Flint River Trail will connect downtown Flint via the Iron Belle Trail from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.

Genesee Valley Trail

The Mall to Chevy Commons: 4.5 miles

Built over the defunct railway that once served automobile factories, the 4.5-mile Genesee Valley Trail runs from Genesee Valley Center on Linden Road to Chevy Commons near downtown. Five years in construction, it was completed August 2015, in collaboration with the city of Flint, the Charter Township of Flint, and the Michigan Department of Transportation. It was thoughtfully designed with new paving and HAWK (high-intensity activated crosswalk) signals to provide safe passage across busy streets. Now connected to the Flint River Trail network, it’s a great way to travel between the mall and downtown, with restaurants and other amenities along the route. Make a day of it: a full tour from Genesee Valley Center north to the village of Genesee and back will rack up 32-miles for your round trip.

Buell Lake County Park

14098 Genesee Rd. in Clio: 1 mile

Just a few steps away from the Buell Lake Boat Ramp, the trail takes about 25 minutes to complete and ends close to restrooms and children’s play area.

For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum

2142 N. Genesee Rd. in Burton

For-Mar includes several trails, including a planned 5k route, which can be accessed at both the north and main entrances. Hike along the bend of Kearsley Creek and explore the trails that twist through the stream’s heavily wooded flats. Trails are well maintained and path directions are marked for ease of use for families.

Flushing County Park

4417 N. McKinley Rd. in Flushing: 1 mile

Flushing Park’s trail runs along Carpenter Road with a bend close to the Flint River. The terrain is good for leisurely excursions on bike or on foot, verdant landscape of trees and lawns. Bring your dog and a pair of running shoes and enjoy one of the most beautiful park trails in the county.

Linden County Park

15349 S. Linden Rd. in Linden: 1.5 miles
Linden County Park’s trails are open year round. The main trail is a 1.5-mile loop through beautiful terrain studded with maple, oak and beech trees. It can be completed on foot in a little over 1/2 hour. The other runs through the center of the park and is perfect for biking.

Future Connections

There are more plans in the works for the Iron Belle Trail, which will run from Detroit’s Belle Isle Park to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula. Now more than 60 percent complete, the Iron Belle Trail will boast 791 miles of bicycle routes, utilizing existing multi-use trails along U.S. Highway 2. A coalition including the Michigan Fitness Foundation, DNR, MDOT, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance and local community groups is campaigning to raise $168 million in private funding to complete the project. Once completed, it will be the longest continuous trail in the state.

Trail Etiquette: Rules is Rules

If people are falling in love with nature for the first time this season, there are some simple rules they need to know first: Don’t feed the wildlife; don’t litter (pack it in, pack it out); weed is still illegal in Michigan; and—DO NOT PLAY YOUR F***ING MUSIC ON THE TRAIL.

It’s okay for hikers and cyclists to share the trail and enjoy the outdoors, but please leave the Bluetooth speakers at home. These resources belong to the public, not just people that like Justin Bieber. If y’all are going to spend your time on the trails instead of at the mall, great, but have some respect for everyone else. The same goes for drones, too—they sound like giant wasps and make you look like a jerk. They are also illegal.

Resources:
Friends of the Flint River Trail
PDF Trail Maps from Genesee County Parks
Trail overviews with maps

Special thanks to Katie Herzog for the trail rules inspiration.

Food Deserts in Flint: What is Being Done?

The USDA defines food deserts as areas devoid of readily available fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods. This sounds simple enough, but the causes behind this phenomenon are not exactly obvious, and finding the right solution is daunting, even on a national scale.1

Complicating factors are particularly harmful in a city like Flint and an area like Genesee County. There is the overlap of food deserts with the poorest neighborhoods, a lack of interest on the part of retailers, and transportation woes. But with renewed focus on the health concerns of Flint residents, several state and local organizations and individuals have spent effort and resources to evaluate the need. Some may be missing the bigger issue, but one just may be on the right track.

The Desert Landscape

In Flint nearly half the population lives more than a mile from a supermarket, a surprising number for any city in the nation. According to feedingamerica.org, there are 70,240 people in Genesee County who are insecure in their ability to get regular, basic nutrition. That’s nearly 17% of the population and above the national average.3 While it is convenient to pass over neighborhoods with low per-capita income statistics and blight because they won’t attract investors to open new stores, the realities of populations getting healthy, fresh food are much more nuanced. Conditions in districts such as those in north and northwest Flint are not well documented or understood by many urban researchers, especially those whose focus is solely on commercial development. That’s why at least one Flint researcher is taking charge of looking at a more complete picture, working at the granular level of documenting and evaluating the options for food choices among Flint’s residents.

Caught in the Middle

After the close of several grocery stores, including Meijer in Mt. Morris Township and two Kroger locations at 1916 Davison Road in the Washington neighborhood and 2629 Pierson Road, serving Bel-Air Woods neighborhood, residents in Flint saw a drastic change in the landscape in the eight short months ending in March 2015. While shrinking population and poor revenue arguably made these large grocery stores unsustainable, the impact was sudden and unwelcome for residents with few options before – and fewer after – the closures.

While one store has since opened on the former Kroger site at Davison Road, The Fresh Choice Market Place has met with mixed reviews citing high prices and inconsistent quality, though these issues frequently affect stores in less affluent communities on a national scale.

In 2016, The Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce was approved to receive state funding via the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to conduct a study. It focused on the suitability of locations for establishing and supporting retail grocers in Flint. Initial public statements suggest placing even a single major chain store in North Flint would be considered unsustainable. An alternative option would be creating two smaller-scale grocery stores while upgrading and sustaining existing stores in the north Flint market.13 A representative for the Chamber involved in the study said the report has been completed but would not comment further on the findings at the time of publication. While the study is supposed to guide the use of the $550,000 pledged in grants to aid Flint grocery stores by the state, the work so far seems to be preliminary, while the problem has persisted in Flint neighborhoods for years.

Several local efforts are also in their early stages. As of 2016, the North Flint Reinvestment Corporation has launched a community food investment campaign. Rev. Reginald Flynn, president the North Flint Reinvestment Corp. and pastor of Foss Avenue Baptist Church, has encouraged his own community to help raise funds and brought in consultant Atif Bostic with UpLift Solutions, a nonprofit group advocating the development full-service grocery stores in underprivileged communities.

While the idea of local involvement in working toward a solution is encouraging, publicly available information about progress on this project over the past 12 months has been scarce. Bostic’s upliftsolutions.org provides no information about the project, instead, it loops back to an article on a news website.

Flynn, who could not be reached for comment as of this writing, does provide a little information at northflintcorp.com. The website has a membership form and list of donors, but no timeline or location is set for the “North Flint Food Market” branded at the top of the flyer at the top of the page. If the stated target of 1500 sponsors is reached with half private donors and half businesses and organizations, this effort will also raise upwards of $560,000 to cover “start-up costs associated with conducting research the market analysis, feasibility studies, consumer surveys, business plan writing, site acquisition, local and state government licenses, applications, and permits, grant-writing, site visit travel expenses, and store operations and management consulting fees.”

That’s over a million dollars allocated, but so far, not a stalk of celery to show for it? Questions persist as to how the money is being spent, and when the mechanisms of these projects will become visible to the public.

Feeling the Effects

Meanwhile, many residents who lack convenient access to healthy food rely on corner stores and chain fast food, which predominantly sell nutrient-poor options. Few escape feeling – and showing – the effects. Genesee County is one of the state’s most overweight counties, and Michigan has consistently ranked among the nation’s 20 most obese states.4

While the convenience store and liquor mart have been routinely overlooked, one researcher may be changing the study of food deserts and their solutions.

A New Approach: Granular Research

Flint map indicating areas with need and suitability for small-scale health food retail interventions.
Red indicates greatest areas of need and suitability for small-scale healthy food retail interventions, according to Sadler’s report.

Enter Richard Sadler, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at MSU Flint. He has published several findings on the nutritional needs of Flint residents, as well as the effects of changes in the food availability landscape.

His study, published in the International Journal of Health Geographics in 2016 includes a new methodology that stands apart from the conventional efforts to woo big grocery stores. Conducted independently and without outside funding, Sadler’s study maps the actual number of healthy food items available in stores, and not just grocers. Every corner store, liquor mart, and market provide data points to chart the real availability of healthy food options throughout the city of Flint.

Sadler has been conducting local food research in Flint for the past eight years. While his studies have been made publicly available and are being utilized by both the Chamber of Commerce and the North Flint Reinvestment Corporation, he has even more intensive research to be published soon – recording data right down to the availability, quality, and price of all of the produce at all of the locations already mapped.

What are some of the indications of these precise studies? Sadler seems to suggest that building and beefing up supermarkets really isn’t enough, and this agrees with recent research published by National Bureau of Economic Research. Placing big-box retailers in nutrition-poor neighborhoods doesn’t seem to change people’s buying habits – often, the price point and selection don’t align well with the need.

Maybe big infrastructure projects aren’t the answer. And in light of his research, Sadler advocates leaner, more agile solutions that aren’t constrained by conventional notions of space, overhead costs, and profit and loss demands.5

Grassroots Efforts

The trend may be away from big-box solutions, and community organizations are getting involved in several aspects of creating solutions for the future of healthy food sustainability.

Retail on Wheels: Fresh Flint Mobile Market has attracted support from national, state and local health and community organizations, and it is doubly beneficial. The program connects nearly twenty local produce growers with consumers in underserved neighborhoods. Stops for its mobile produce stand are announced in advance on Facebook. Additionally, boxes of fresh produce can be ordered online and delivered to the door.

Grow Your Own, but Get Tested

Gardening: It’s one decision that can have immediate impact for a household. A conversation around urban gardens demands a study unto itself, and the suggestion may seem daunting for those who aren’t familiar with growing their own food. It’s important to have support when starting on a new venture, and many resources exist for gardeners.

A leading example is the MSU Extension Master Gardener program. In 2016 alone, volunteers numbered 3,991 and provided over 170,380 volunteer hours throughout Michigan. They are dedicated to educating and assisting with every aspect of private gardening, including environmental and health best practices, especially with regards to water conditions.

Another group focused on local issues is Edible Flint. They provide classes at a demo garden located at 5th Ave and Begole St, as well as service days and coordination for community volunteers. They also provide soil test kits for free to Flint residents.

Blight? Yep.

Clean water and good soil are not the only consideration for urban gardeners in Flint. On a recent tour of Ryan Beuthin’s garden in Mott Park neighborhood, the conversation about gardening quickly turned to groundhogs. Pointing to the abandoned and neglected yards within shouting distance of his own carefully tended plot, he explained that no barricade or trapping mechanisms can ensure 100% security from the pests. When blight happens, the groundhogs move in, survival of the fittest style.

An unintended consequence of urban decay? Maybe, but this phenomenon further underscores the importance of community in bringing about the change toward sustainable food sources. As properties are restored and maintained, conditions improve for everyone nearby.

The Best Kind of Hunger

Meeting the need for better nutrition can cost precious resources and time. With so much being spent on evaluating need, one element must be kept in mind, since it influences the effectiveness of relief efforts, business development, or philanthropy more than any other: education.

Feeding the hunger for knowledge about nutrition is essential to helping people in struggling neighborhoods improve their food habits.

One small example is the “cookbook” published to help combat the effects of lead poisoning from the Water Crisis. Flintwaterstudy.org published this document with support by the USDA outlining the benefits of foods with calcium, iron and vitamin C, all with simple to follow recipes featuring fresh ingredients.2

Another is the Flint Farmer’s Market cooking demos. Local chefs and nutritionists demonstrate recipes in an informal test kitchen open to the public on select market days.

Sources
  1. healthyfoodmi.heart.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Food-for-Every-Child-Final-cleared-edition.pdf
  2. flintwaterstudy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/nutrition-and-lead-recipe-and-resource-guide.pdf
  3. map.feedingamerica.org/county/2015/overall/michigan/organization/food-bank-of-eastern-michigan
  4. huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-michigan-food-access-obesity_us_56b3b783e4b08069c7a68905
  5. flintandgenesee.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RFP-Flint-Grocery-Store-Market-Analysis.pdf

Flint: A Vehicle for Change

Flint and I go back a few years. I met my wife at college, and I had no idea what her hometown was like. After visits over a decade, I grew to see Flint as a midwestern town like most, with its strip malls in various states of decay and a downtown trying to reinvent itself.

But since becoming a permanent resident a short while ago, I have had to confront a lot of things I never fully appreciated about Flint. And it’s taught me a lot about The American Dream, those would-be petty kings who would kill it, and the ragged, motley contingent that wants to see it restored.

Living here in Downtown, I have witnessed a lot of things that give me hope, and I shake my head at more than a few that demonstrate how so much hardship in our society is entirely preventable. I, too, have felt the anger and frustration over trust betrayed by our government officials and the fear of our infrastructure crumbling beneath us.

With international press over Flint’s water, many are wondering how many more times Flint will be a whipping post. But I do not believe this has to be the case.

The root of the problem here in Flint is not simple to discern. There are callous capitalists and venal politicians who have harmed and still harm our citizens. There are racial prejudices and a generation gap that skew perceptions and drive a wedge between the major players in our community. But none of these things are unique to Flint, Michigan.

The underlying cause of much of the misery here, as elsewhere, is a kind of blindness. I perceive it when people toss off the bullsh*t phrase “that’s Flint for ya”. The phrase is utterly meaningless in itself, yet it implies the kind of apathy I cannot and will not ever embrace.

Flint is ugly, and Flint is beautiful. There is beauty everywhere. There is hardship everywhere. I have worked with people who have more money than I will probably ever see who rail about infinitesimal, petty gripes while lounging in the very lap of luxury. And I have received the best kind of sincere hospitality in neighborhoods so poor they can’t afford to pave their streets or collect the garbage. All here in the United States.

A phrase like that about Flint can only be an expression of grieving for a loss. This points at the kind of blindness I’m talking about: the inability to learn from previous mistakes, and the unwillingness, even when standing knee-deep in evidence, to change your view.

In 1946, a study by sociologist C. Wright Mills and economist Melville Ulmer compared and contrasted the economic contours of Grand Rapids, a patchwork of smaller, less-flashy industries, and Flint, the GM thoroughbred. The study predicted the dramatic difference in outcomes each city would experience over the coming generations, and, no surprise, Grand Rapids was favored for its less-glamorous embrace of diverse trades and industries, which would help sustain its economy. Hard times for one industry did not necessarily mean dire straits for others; diversity helped level things out. Flint however, was the thoroughbred that might have been more wisely seen as a one-trick pony.

My first real encounter with this situation was twelve years ago when my wife-to-be sat me down and screened Roger and Me. I was aghast at the brutality with which an entire city was denuded of its economic resources, stripped of its pride, and slapped in the face by a few greedy people. But what I was, and am still even more amazed by is that no one seemed to have learned the lesson everyone hears as a child:

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Wishing for a past which will never return won’t help. Idle complaining won’t help. Selling out to Buick for corporate sponsorships really won’t help. When a branch goes bad you tie it off. Instead, cultivate the new shoots that will give a fresh, abundant flowering and produce good fruit.

The cure for this blindness is taking a long, hard look at ourselves, and realizing that the change we want to see starts with that person each of us sees in the mirror. And the best way to cultivate a new and better attitude is with free and open discourse. It’s really why The Flint Phoenix was started – to be an alternative news source that isn’t ashamed to look in the mirror and isn’t afraid to speak its mind.

We firmly believe that this clarity of vision can turn the tide for our community. We admire the bravery and persistence of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who raised the alarm about lead in Flint’s water. Even after the state publicly denounced her findings, she kept on telling the truth about children suffering from government negligence. And when we speak up for what we know is right – from starting a neighborhood watch to telling your friends to shop local – we become the difference we want to see around us.

It’s time to update those signs downtown to read “Flint: A Vehicle for Change.”

-ZJ