Belle Isle, Detroit, MI!!

An aerial view of Belle Isle in Detroit, pictured Tuesday July 31, 2012.  (Oakland Press Photo By: Vaughn Gurganian)

An aerial view of Belle Isle in Detroit, pictured Tuesday July 31, 2012. (Oakland Press Photo By: Vaughn Gurganian)

The 985-acre, state park (leased from the City of Detroit since 2014) is quite possibly the strangest state park I have ever visited. Perhaps its proximity to Canada has something to do with it? 😉 All jokes aside, this bizarre collection of attractions is correlated with the City of Detroit’s 50 sum year downward decline; thus, it is my inclination that the diverse mix of attractions of this island was not intentional. Nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating place.

Each use on this multi-use island has its own fascinating story to tell. Although not all attractions are currently functioning, their impacts on the island’s landscape remain. For example, the dilapidated, vacant Detroit Zoo gives off a New Urbanism-post-apocalyptic feel, an architecture style I had never experienced in person or virtually before such moment:

zoo

An interior view from google images

Travel a bit further down the Indy Race track, yes…the Indy race track, and you can access the Conservatory.

indycartrack

Belle Isle’s many other uses can be viewed on this map’s legend, provided by the State of MI:

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.26.49 PM

It’s not your traditional state park, which is not necessarily a negative thing. But apparent maintenance issues exacerbate the hodgepodge feel of the multiple attractions. As my cousin drove me around, we observed fewer than ten people on the entire island, and the closed zoo made me sad. The grass was long, but it didn’t resemble native plantings, giving a feel, like most places in Detroit, that this park is abandoned. Despite numerous attractions, the emptiness of the space was undeniable.

It seems like the space was designed for families to experience a day’s-worth of activities; yet, with the added inconvenience of a long drive to get to them. A park that is necessary to drive to might not have been the best original design if planners wanted to create a place for the masses to mingle, as suggested by the stacked attractions. I question, shouldn’t a park that requires a drive be better suited as a place of solitude? Then why the need for so many attractions? Without getting into the root causes of its current state of affairs, you can find gapers such as myself and the occasional lonely fisherman hanging out on a Sunday afternoon on Belle Isle.

Detroit, Michigan - A Great Lakes freighter headed upbound on the Detroit River passes a lone fisherman on Belle Isle, a city park on an island in the Detroit River. Windsor, Ontario in Canada is on the far shore. Copyright Jim West

Detroit, Michigan – A Great Lakes freighter headed upbound on the Detroit River passes a lone fisherman on Belle Isle, a city park on an island in the Detroit River. Windsor, Ontario in Canada is on the far shore.
Copyright Jim West

 

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