DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Belle Isle in Detroit officially became Michigan’s newest state park on Monday, with the Department of Natural Resources taking over management of the 985-acre island park in a move that’s expected to save the bankrupt city between $4 million and $6 million a year.
The state will run the city-owned park under a 30-year lease deal with Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr. The DNR said current park rules and hours remain in effect for the Detroit River island, which is Michigan’s 102nd state park.
“The DNR has worked to ensure a smooth transition for Belle Isle with the goal of enhancing this world-class place for the residents of Detroit and Michigan,” DNR Director Keith Creagh said in a statement. “We are excited … to help revitalize this important community gathering place.”
Detroit retains ownership of Belle Isle, which was laid out by landscape architect Frederic Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park. The state said it plans to make improvements and is working with the city, the Belle Isle Conservancy, the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee and others. The Michigan Department of Transportation is taking over responsibility for park roads and bridges.
There will be a new $11-per-car annual fee to visit, paid as part of a state Recreation Passport, that will be phased in gradually — and state officials say what you pay to visit Belle Isle will stay on Belle Isle through maintenance and upgrade projects.
A Recreation Passport is needed to enter Michigan’s state parks, recreation areas and forest campgrounds. Drivers heading to Belle Isle won’t have to get one during the first year of state management until their next license plate registration renewal. If the renewal date is in November, for example, it’s required then.
Pedestrians, bicyclists and those using public transportation may enter the park for free, and the DNR said it is working with the city to re-establish a public bus route to the island. Park rangers will greet visitors just north of the McArthur Bridge, which connects to the island.
While some Detroit residents spoke out against the lease deal, Detroiter Sean Butler said it had to be done.
“They can build Bell Isle into something that it once was. Detroit don’t have enough money to do it by themselves,” Butler told WWJ’s Ron Dewey.
“I think I’ll pay for it (the Recreation Passport) just to go over there still, because I’ve been going over there since I was a little kid,” Butler added. “It’s worth it, yeah. It’s worth it.”
Recent improvements to the park include taking down 160 trees that were deemed hazardous in high-use areas, such as near playground equipment, refurbishing several dozen picnic tables and re-roofing a shelter.
More than 40 organizations have pledged support to Belle Isle revitalization efforts, offering volunteers, expertise and funding help.
“These partnerships are essential to success at Belle Isle Park,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division.
The park hours, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., stay the same.
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