Belle Isle now a state park, improvements continue

On Monday, Detroit’s historic Belle Isle joined Michigan’s expansive, award-winning park system as Michigan’s 102nd state park. As the Department of Natural Resources assumes management of the island, the park retains its name — Belle Isle Park — along with current park rules and hours. The state, working with partner organizations, will continue to make improvements to the island park.

A lease agreement between the city of Detroit and the state, approved by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board in November 2013, provided for a 90-day transition period to state management that ends today. Under terms of the lease, the DNR manages the park while the city of Detroit retains ownership. The Department of Transportation assumes responsibility for park roads and bridges.

“The DNR has worked to ensure a smooth transition for Belle Isle with the goal of enhancing this world-class place for the residents of Detroit and Michigan,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “We are excited to continue working with the city leadership, Belle Isle Conservancy, Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee and our many partners to help revitalize this important community gathering place.” 

Park rules remain unchanged

To ensure a smooth and seamless transition to Belle Isle as a state park, the DNR has adopted the current island park rules, which are similar to other state park rules and regulations. Assessment of the park’s rules and procedures will occur throughout 2014 to better understand the island’s use and determine the best means for providing a clean and safe environment, while meeting the needs of visitors. 

Park hours — 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. — will remain unchanged. State park staff, including a park supervisor, rangers and support staff, will offer a heightened customer-service presence on the island during these hours of operation. Security patrols on Belle Isle — conducted by the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division in cooperation with the Michigan State Police — will occur around the clock. 

Beginning this week, a mobile contact station, located in front of the second loop connecting Sunset Drive and Picnic Way just north of the McArthur Bridge, will serve as the greeting station for park visitors. Rangers will be available in the contact station to answer questions, offer maps and materials and provide the Recreation Passport, which grants visitors access to all Michigan state parks, including Belle Isle. 

Introducing the Recreation Passport

The Recreation Passport will be phased in gradually. Vehicles will not need the Passport during the first year of state management until their next license plate registration renewal date. For example, if the vehicle license plate registration renewal date is in March 2014, then the Passport is not needed on that vehicle to enter Belle Isle until March. If the renewal date is in November 2014, than a Recreation Passport is not needed until November. Once a full year has cycled (February 2015), all vehicles entering the park must have a Recreation Passport. 

The Recreation Passport applies only to vehicles, not individuals. Pedestrians, bicyclists and those using public transportation can enter the park for free and will not need the Passport. The DNR is working with the city of Detroit to re-establish a public bus route to the island. 

Partnerships are key to success

More than 40 organizations — including businesses, nonprofit groups and representatives from local, state and national government — have pledged support to Belle Isle revitalization efforts, offering volunteers, expertise, donations and assistance in infrastructure funding. 

“These partnerships are essential to success at Belle Isle Park,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “People have heard that it takes a village to raise a child. We’re saying it takes a big community to raise a park.”

Revitalization efforts under way

Revitalization efforts began during the 90-day transition period following the lease signing. Posts were placed in the ground to anchor refuse barrels. DNR Forest Resources Division staff trained in hazard-tree assessment inspected, marked and felled 160 hazardous trees in high-use areas, including near playground equipment. Several dozen picnic tables were refurbished and a shelter reroofed. 

In the next six months, park improvement efforts will continue. Those efforts will include:

• Restoration and reopening of restrooms;

• Clearing of debris from picnic areas and, in some locations, expansion of picnic areas;

• Refurbishing additional picnic tables;

• Clearing brush and debris from trails;

• Removing refuse barrels from canals;

• Anchoring all trash cans to the ground;

• Removing hazard-tree limbs and branches;

• Enhancing wayfinding signs;

• Installing lighting;

• Repairing plumbing in all buildings; and

• Other priority projects. 

Public safety efforts begin
Public safety needs are also being addressed. On Feb. 1, DNR conservation officers (who are fully empowered state peace officers), along with Michigan State Police troopers, began providing around-the-clock, year-round law enforcement coverage on the island. 

“We are excited that Belle Isle is becoming Michigan’s 102nd state park, and look forward to working with island visitors to provide them with a safe, family-friendly, environment,” said 1st Lt. David Malloch, DNR district law enforcement supervisor for southeast Michigan.


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