Belle Isle begins transition toward state park

DNR discusses partnerships, improvements as Detroit's Belle Isle transitions toward state park

Downtown Detroit as seen from Belle Isle park in Detroit.
Downtown Detroit as seen from Belle Isle park in Detroit.

DETROIT — About three-dozen groups are committing time, talent and in some cases money to improving Belle Isle as the park transitions over the next two months from city to state control.

The state Department of Natural Resources begins managing the 985-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River in mid-February under a 30-year lease.

Agency Director Keith Creagh today will introduce partnerships in revamping the park, which has seen a cutback in city repairs and maintenance as Detroit succumbed to debt and budget deficits.

A federal judge last week allowed Detroit to become the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.

The state budget sets aside $2.5 million for management of Belle Isle, but Mr. Creagh is looking for help from all quarters, whether through funding or sweat.

“It’s absolutely about the partners,” he said. “When people heard we were involved, they said, how could they be helpful?”

The Great Lakes Fisheries Trust is chipping in a $200,000 grant to improve fishing piers on the island. Ducks Unlimited will look at some of the water issues. The regional office of the National Park Service will lend its expertise.

Mid-Michigan Recycling has donated the use of a horizontal wood grinder.

Fisheries and wildlife biologists from Mr. Creagh’s department will look at improving animal habitats. The parks division will repair picnic tables.

“Right now, we’re cutting trees and trying to clear some of those paths and get rid of some of that overgrowth,” Mr. Creagh said.

Young adults through the Detroit nonprofit Healthy Kidz have already renovated one of Belle Isle’s restrooms.

Part of the battle is winning over Detroit residents, especially since there eventually will be an $11 annual fee to drive onto the island. The fee, which allows entry into all state parks, will be gradually phased in during the first year of state management of Belle Isle.

“We’ve sat down and had conversations with some members of the City Council, some members of the mayor’s office,” Mr. Creagh said. “We will not be successful as a solely DNR-run park without local support. We understand that.”

Detroit will save up to $6 million a year throughout the deal.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder also has pledged to invest $10 million to $20 million in the first three years of state management of the island, which will become Michigan’s 102nd state park.