What’s up, Belle Isle?

What’s up, Belle Isle?
Judge Damon Keith administers the oath of office for members of the Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

Judge Damon Keith administers the oath of office for members of the Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

If you’ve been wondering what has happened at Belle Isle in advance of the island formally becoming a state park on Feb. 10, the answer is found in some newly functioning restrooms, removed (diseased, dying or dangerous) trees and repaired shelters and picnic tables.

A crowd of more than 100 filled a Detroit Yacht Club ballroom today as the seven-member Belle Isle Advisory Committee held its first public meeting, a three-hour affair. State officials reported about progress to date and described their future plans for management, operation, maintenance and improvement of the island park.

And those are detailed, specific, promising plans for the park so many of us visit for walking, running, biking, skating, sunset watching, photographing, dog exercising, golfing, birdwatching, museum appreciating, cruising, fishing, sailing, power boating, kayaking, canoeing, cricket playing, picnicking, reunion holding, partying…

Let’s stop there as a dozen or so of the men and women at the meeting were clad in law enforcement uniforms from multiple agencies, and their commanding officers promised elevated public safety at the park.

Other future efforts now that the island will be a state park are to include a summer youth employment program, creating a “greener” infrastructure for the park, protecting native plants and specimen trees and historic preservation of buildings.

“We want to keep things moving in a steady but positive direction, and there’s more of that to come,” said Ron Olson, the chief of the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division, “whether you jog, fish, swim, ride your bike or just come out an read a book.”

The biggest difference will be that beginning Feb. 10, the $11 annual state recreation passport will be required to enter the park.

Public comments were generally positive.

But a handful of people objected to the closure of the island for the Grand Prix auto race. Some others – members of the Detroit Rowing Club, photographers and other early risers – objected to the assumed state park hours of operation: sunrise to sunset.

“At this point we’re talking about 6 a.m. so the hours of operation would be from 6 in the morning until 10 at night,” Olson said. “Basically I want to reassure that our intent is to have the rules be the same.”

-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

@WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org