Detroit misses opportunity in Belle Isle deal

Tom PinkThe city of Detroit really missed an opportunity earlier this year when it refused to consider allowing the state of Michigan to lease Belle Isle and run it as a state park.

The city park gets a lot of help from the Belle Isle Conservancy, but it needs much more to make it a clean, safe place for fishermen, boaters, paddlers, hikers and anyone who enjoys finding a neat place to get outdoors so close to an urban environment. Right now, it is just another asset that the city can no longer afford to maintain.

At nearly 1,000 acres, Belle Isle is the largest city-owned park in the country, and it is still popular with many outdoor enthusiasts in spite of its declining condition. But both land and water trails are clogged with debris and trash, and structures such as the aquarium, horse stables and restrooms are in great need of repair.

I have fond memories of Belle Isle. As a kid, we took many trips to the aquarium. In the woods, we honed our hunting skills by stalking the European deer there to see how close we could get to them. We participated in a fishing contest on the island in which the Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress had stocked a pond full of trout. The park is a great place to watch migratory birds and still is a destination for shore fishermen. It was impressive.

For the Detroit City Council to shove aside the state’s offer of help is extremely shortsighted. Under a state lease, and with continued cooperation from the Belle Isle Conservancy and other partners, the park could shine again. Would the average visitor know the difference in caretakers – city vs. state? Perhaps, but not in the way that the council might fear. No matter who was maintaining it, an improved Belle Isle would be a good reflection on the city. Right now, the park clearly says “Detroit,” but not in a good way.

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