Over 40 organizations – including businesses, nonprofit groups and representatives from local, state and national government – gathered today on Belle Isle in Detroit to pledge their commitments to help revitalize the historic island park.
The event, under the theme “All in for Belle Isle,” was sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in conjunction with the City of Detroit and the Belle Isle Conservancy. Belle Isle is in transition to becoming Michigan’s 102nd state park. A 90-day transition period will culminate Feb. 10 when the DNR assumes management of the park under a recently approved lease. The park will remain under city ownership.
Partners pledged a variety of support to island revitalization and recreation enhancement. Those pledges included: assistance with funding for infrastructure improvement; donation of a nature trail and picnic shelters; softball field renovation; and continuation of youth employment programs that will revitalize the park while offering employment training to Detroit-based youth and young adults.
“Partner support is critical to long-term success on Belle Isle,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “The DNR can’t do it alone. Today we saw the breadth and depth of that partner support. Together with these partners and the City of Detroit, the state is committed to enhancing Belle Isle’s reputation as a world-class destination for Detroit residents and all of Michigan.”
Work has already begun, as evidenced by activities around the island this week. Crews are engaged in hazardous tree removal and grinding, shelter re-roofing, refuge barrel replacement, picnic table board replacement and other improvement efforts.
“Belle Isle is central to the life of Detroit and its citizens,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “It’s a cultural and historic gem. For the citizens of Detroit and the state, Belle Isle deserves to be maintained and operated at the highest standards. The Michigan state park system is a proven, award-winning management structure that, in combination with an outpouring of partner support and pledges, will enhance Belle Isle and complement the quality of life for our residents.”
The Belle Isle lease, accepted on Nov. 12 by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board and previously approved by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Gov. Rick Snyder, DNR Director Creagh and Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, provides for an initial 30-year term with two 15-year renewals.
“The City of Detroit will remain a close and continuing partner in the operation of Belle Isle,” said Detroit City Council Member James Tate. “A state-city partnership is a great opportunity to revitalize Belle Isle, and we’re excited about the possibilities. Work is already in progress and partners are lining up to assist.”
A seven-member committee established in the lease will advise the state on improvements and master planning for the park. A minimum of three members of the committee will be residents of the city of Detroit. The state will work cooperatively with the Belle Isle Conservancy and other partners, in collaboration with the advisory committee, to develop and improve the park.
“The conservancy is truly committed to working with the state and its many public and private partners,” said Belle Isle Conservancy President Michele Hodges. “This is a fantastic opportunity to work closely with the many organizations that, like us, want to see this special island park enhanced for the greater good. On Tuesday, the Conservancy once again showed its support by pledging to be ‘All in For Belle Isle.’”
Representatives from 13 partner organizations verbalized commitments at Tuesday’s event, including:
- Michele Hodges, president, Belle Isle Conservancy, pledging assistance with generating significant funding from foundations, corporations and private donors; expertise in environmental stewardship, historic preservation, aquarium operation and more; providing over 4,500 volunteers per year; and providing social capital, relationships and institutional knowledge;
- Faye Nelson, president and CEO, Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, pledging to continue work with the DNR in maintenance, operations and programming initiatives, similar to those utilized along the Detroit riverfront;
- Dr. Grenae Dudley, president and CEO, Youth Connections, pledging continuation of the work on the island already started by over 200 Youth Connections Career Academies Youth Ambassadors, including trail maintenance and removal of phragmites and other invasive species, and restoring and renovating various areas and providing exceptional customer service;
- Maria Adams-Lawton, executive director, Healthy Kidz, pledging continued assistance through youth employment program projects, such as the recently rehabilitated Oxbow Comfort Station;
- Nicholas Mukhtar, chief executive officer, Healthy Detroit, in partnership with the National Prevention Strategy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pledges to work with the DNR and Belle Isle Conservancy to improve the recreation and fitness-related infrastructure on the island in order to provide residents better access to the resources they need to live healthy lives;
- Charles Burns, general manager, Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, pledging continued funding for revitalization efforts, including donations of a nature trail and picnic shelters and pledging to continue to showcase Belle Isle to a national and international audience during the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix;
- Erin McDonough, executive director, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, pledging assistance from conservation groups to participate in wildlife habitat and invasive species control, as well as making a commitment in partnership with the St. Clair Walleye Association to bring anglers of all ages to Belle Isle to access Detroit’s world-class fishing opportunities; and, as Trustee of the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, pledging over $200,000, which has already been committed, to restoring two universal, shore-based fishing access points on Belle Isle;
- Rebecca Salminen Witt, president, The Greening of Detroit, pledging the support of its Green Corps Summer Youth Employment Program for landscape maintenance, tree planting, green job training, and continued beautification of the island;
- Charles Wooley, deputy regional director, Midwest region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pledging assistance in wildlife habitat restoration for species such as sturgeon and terns, which also provides recreational opportunities for visitors;
- Mike Reynolds, regional director, Midwest region, National Park Service, pledging support of Belle Isle efforts and coordination through federal grant sources;
- Justin Jacobs, founder, Come Play Detroit, pledging programming assistance for recreational sports leagues and events and assistance in softball field renovation to bring people of all ages to Belle Isle;
- Dr. Bob Bartlett, president of Michigan Colleges Foundation, sponsor of Third 90 Network program, pledging help in encouraging Detroit high school students to consider STEM (science, technol ogy, engineering, math)-related majors in college, and participate in the stewardship and natural resources activities on Belle Isle; and
- Gildo Tori, director of public policy, Ducks Unlimited, pledging support of wetland and waterfowl restoration and conservation on Belle Isle for people to enjoy.
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