Graham Sustainability Institute

Adaptation on the Ground: Establishing an Eco-Park in Flint, MI

Thursday, February 5, 2015
Example of a swale at Max Brandon Park

Example of a swale at Max Brandon Park

Location of wetland in Max Brandon Park

Location of wetland in Max Brandon Park

As one of six cities participating in the Climate Center’s urban adaptation pilot program, GLAA-C, the City of Flint worked together with a coalition of neighborhood, city, and county partners to establish an eco-park in Max Brandon Park. Located amid several highly distressed neighborhoods, the 107 acre park offered a unique venue for the city to demonstrate how climate adaptation efforts provide ecological, infrastructural, quality of life benefits. In addition to improving the hydrological function of the park’s wetland, restoration and improvement efforts have led to improved relationships between neighborhood residents and city staff.

Fresh on the heels of the adoption of Imagine Flint, the U-M Climate Center supported an eco-park restoration initiative which provided the City an opportunity to demonstrate an immediate master plan project to the community. The 2014 project was focused on Max Brandon Park, a critical piece of green infrastructure in Flint. At 107 acres, Max Brandon Park is not only Flint’s second largest park but it also includes a wetland, making it a unique ecological gem. In addition to providing important environmental and stormwater benefits to the City, staff decided to implement an adaptation project in Max Brandon Park because it would help spread awareness about sustainability and urban ecology to an often overlooked portion of Flint’s population. Max Brandon Park lies within multiple severely distressed neighborhoods that are home to nearly 10,500 low-income, African American residents, 29% of whom are under 18. This is an important demographic that Flint staff wanted to engage in this project and did so successfully.

The key accomplishments for this project included:

  • A strong community engagement and collaboration program between neighborhood, city, and regional partners
  • The removal of invasive species and creation of sight lines across Max Brandon Park
  • The identification and repair of damaged/ineffective stormwater infrastructure (including a critical culvert)
  • The restoration of a natural wetland system through infrastructure and landscape improvements

This project provided the City an opportunity to demonstrate an immediate master plan project to the community. Specifically, the project addressed many of the principles laid out in the master plan including Social Equity & Sustainability and Adapting to Change. The project also bolstered city staff’s relationship with an important existing community group: The Friends of Max Brandon Park (“Friends”).

The most tangible outcome of this project is the physical change in the park. The wetland area was opened up through the proper and necessary removal of nuisance vegetation, much of which contained invasive species. This work generated sight-lines for the first time in decades, and allowed the public to view the actual wetland and its unique characteristics. During this extensive removal of vegetation, an unexpected problem came to light: A large culvert, responsible for receiving rainwater from the numerous swales throughout the park and discharging into the wetland, was significantly broken leaving it non-operational and leaving the wetland to be functioning at lower levels than the original design intended. This find also answered some additional questions staff has had regarding the lack of consistent water flow to the wetland and the overwhelming flooding that occurs after heavy rain events. Support from U-M Climate Center enabled the City to repair and perform maintenance on the culvert. The 21” diameter concrete culvert is approximately 200’ long with an access structure approximately in the middle. The structure was dug up and a new structure installed with a sump pump in the bottom and a manhole cover on the top. Approximately 40’ of ditch on each end of the culvert was cleaned out and large stones were placed to help stop sediment and debris from flowing into the culvert. The breadth and success of this program caught the attention of a local philanthropy and in the July 2014 the City was able to leverage the initial funding from the Climate Center to attract a $75,000 grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation to continue and enhance work in the park. This successful project demonstrates the value and benefits of building partnerships across community scales and how much can be done when partners come together!