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Belle Isle Begins Transition Toward State Park

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DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - Dozens of groups are committing time, talent and in some cases money to improving Belle Isle as the park transitions over the next two months from city to state control.

The state Department of Natural Resources will take over management of the 985-acre island park in February as part of a 30-year lease that will save Detroit approximately $6 million a year.

On Tuesday, agency Director Keith Creagh will introduce partnerships in revamping the park, which has seen a cutback in city repairs and maintenance as Detroit succumbed to debt and budget deficits. A federal judge last week allowed Detroit to become the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.

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The state budget sets aside $2.5 million for management of Belle Isle, but Creagh is looking for help from all quarters, whether through funding or sweat.

“It’s absolutely about the partners,” he said. “When people heard we were involved, they said, how could they be helpful?”

The Great Lakes Fisheries Trust is chipping in a $200,000 grant to improve fishing piers on the island, Ducks Unlimited will look at some of the water issue and the regional office of the National Park Service will lend its expertise.

Fisheries and wildlife biologists from Creagh’s department will look at improving animal habitats, while the parks division will repair picnic tables.

“Right now, we’re cutting trees and trying to clear some of those paths and get rid of some of that overgrowth,” Creagh said.

Trees that have been harvested will be recycled on-site by Mid-Michigan Recycling using the company’s wood grinding equipment. The wood chips will then be used to help enhance or create trails on Belle Isle.

Creagh said signs of improvement can are already visible at the park. Young adults through the Detroit nonprofit Healthy Kidz have already renovated one of Belle Isle’s restrooms.

But part of the battle is winning over Detroit residents, especially since there eventually will be an $11 annual fee to drive onto the island. The fee, which allows entry into all state parks across Michigan, will be gradually phased in during the first year of state management of Belle Isle.

“We’ve sat down and had conversations with some members of the City Council, some members of the mayor’s office,” Creagh said. “We will not be successful as a solely DNR-run park without local support. We understand that.”

Gov. Rick Snyder also has pledged to invest $10 million to $20 million in the first three years of state management of the island, which will become Michigan’s 102nd state park.

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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