An image of a small pond lightly covered with algae. A sunset in the background with orange reflecting onto the pond. Trees and clouds in the background.
Plentiful Wetlands The rec area will protect a large portion of wetlands in the Saginaw Watershed. © Michigan DNR

Stories in Michigan

Reclaiming Nature For Saginaw

Former General Motors site becomes a 334-acre natural area.

Green space is coming to Saginaw. Lots of green space.

A General Motors industrial site once stood along the Saginaw River. Now, it becomes the Saginaw River Headwaters Area—the first and only county park in the city—thanks to a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, RACER Trust and many others.

"The fact that it could become a natural area on a riverfront and provide access for people for nature, and potentially help downtown Saginaw revitalize an abandoned property—it doesn't get better than that,” says Helen Taylor, state director for the Michigan chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Recreation Close to Home

Saginaw County Parks and Recreation operates and maintains the new Rec Area for hiking, fishing, wildlife watching and other light recreation. Positioned where the Shiawassee and Tittabawassee rivers meet to create the Saginaw River, this area protects critical wildlife and habitats that aid in stopping floods and reducing the movement of pollutants. 

Situated at the highest point in the city, the park will provide a sledding hill for children and impressive views for spectators. Natural features include wetlands, shallow-water ponds and forested river corridors—all along one mile of shoreline.   

Equally important to the park’s mission is to provide access for communities of color that have historically been excluded and denied opportunities for green space and recreation. Here, visitors can enjoy the serene setting with loved ones just minutes away from city life, bringing people and nature together for generations to come.  

See You In Saginaw Watch a sneak peek of the beautiful nature to experience here. Whether it’s hiking, fishing, sightseeing, birding or biking—there’ll be an experience for you.

From lumber to coal mining to a malleable iron factory, this area has played a vital role in Michigan’s industrial history. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources acquired the property from RACER Trust in the fall of 2019. It was previously owned and operated by General Motors before RACER Trust took ownership in 2011 as a result of the GM bankruptcy. Prior to the DNR’s acquisition of the property, RACER Trust completed extensive evaluation and remediation work, with oversight and approval by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

A small inlet on the Saginaw River shore. A rocky shore with trees on the left side of the image, with water on the right.
Saginaw River Access Access to the shoreline of the Saginaw River provides a wonderful amount of recreation opportunities. © Brian Keenan-Lechel

The project represents a model of collaboration in addressing a key priority for Michigan’s cities: revitalization and restoration of waterfront areas that provide public access to urban residents for safe recreational experiences, healthy lifestyles and wildlife appreciation.

Future developments will include an entrance gate, interpretive signage, and accessible trails. Visitors will be able to access the Rec Area off of W. Center across the river from Wickes Park. Construction will continue over the coming months with a ribbon cutting anticipated in the summer of 2021. 

This park serves as a huge win for people and nature alike. 

Thank you to the partners and sponsors that made this park possible: 1st State Bank; Dow Chemical Company; Jake Shinners; Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund; RACER Trust; Saginaw Community Foundation; Saginaw County Parks and Recreation Commission; Scott Holman; The Nature Conservancy; and United States Fish and Wildlife Service.