DETROIT (WWJ) – Officials say it was a miscommunication.
Detroit residents concerned that Belle Isle would be closed to the public for a September conference are being reassured that won’t be happening.
At a Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee meeting Thursday, Michigan DNR officials explained that Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) staff who said the new state park would be shut down for five days, Sept. 7-11, for the Intelligent Transport Systems 21st World Congress — an auto tech conference — “did not know all the details” when they spoke to the media.
Advisory Committee Chairwoman Michelle Hodges said she wanted to clear the air, telling those in attendance that island would not be a playground for the wealthy.
She apologized for the confusion.
“Well, leaders learn, and we’re learning, and typical of any kind of transition process where you’re going to hit bumps in the road, and you learn from them and you move forward,” Hodges said. “And I have the benefit of sitting behind the scenes, side-by-side with the DNR, and I know what their intentions are.”
Speaking to the Free Press last week, MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said plans to use Belle Isle for the conference were in the works before the state took over park management from Detroit in February.
DNR officials said they’re now working on a solution for public access to the park during the event while ensuring safety measures necessary for experimental vehicles that will be on the island.
Hodges is satisfied with that.
“They’re very positive, and they want what’s right, and the public space will be protected; and it’s a park first,” she said. “That is our value, that is our commitment, and we won’t forget that.”
It was not immediately clear what areas of the island would be closed to the public or what entry restrictions might be.
Belle Isle, 985-acre island located midway between Detroit and Windsor, has been owned by the city since 1879. In recent years the island has suffered as Detroit can’t afford needed repairs.
While the city retains ownership of the island under the terms of a 30-year lease, some in Detroit have protested state management of what is often touted as one the city’s crown jewels.
Since the takeover, much has been made of an alcohol ban on the island; and some have complained about alleged “random” stops made by state police and conservation officers. Officers deny that’s happening, saying most of the stops are for speeding.