Saturday, August 19, 2017

Finally! I paid a visit to Detroit's "crown jewel"

The conservatory on Belle Isle. It, along with other buildings on the island, are typically open during weekends all year long.
Belle Isle was the place for fun for my father when he was growing up. It's a place I've heard plenty about throughout my life, but never made it to the island nestled in the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada.

That all changed last month, as a summer work feature I wrote that was published online this past week took me to the island for a profile on the most-visited state park in Michigan.

Belle Isle became a state park in 2014 in the midst of Detroit's budget problems after the city's bankruptcy. With that, the state became responsible for upkeep on the island, which its manager told me is moving along nicely: bathrooms are being upgraded, repairs are being done to the picnic shelters, to name a few.

Right from my time driving across the bridge to the island, I noticed its majesty coming out of the river. The bridge is a welcoming view to the island, and once on it, there's a multitude of activities to partake in. After my scheduled interview with the manager, Karis Floyd, I spent some time on the island, getting a sense of its offerings to visitors. Floyd told me he typically advises first-time visitors to plan on staying for at least five hours, a number that shocked me when I first heard it. But as I drove my car all the way to the eastern part of the island near the driving range, I saw everything offered and realized he may have been estimating low.

I went on a Wednesday afternoon right after lunch, but you would have thought it was a Saturday with all the people on the island. The conservatory parking lot, where I parked, was nearly full, and children were riding the giant slide. I walked over to the Nancy Brown Peace Carillion to see what it was all about. It's a sign that the island still has a way to go, as the base of the tower, while gated off, is filled with overgrown vegetation.

The view of downtown Detroit near Sunset Point.
I got into my car and began my driving tour, riding past the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the baseball fields and eventually, the beach. The water was full of children and adults enjoying a swim in the Detroit River, which connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie.

I made my way to a recommended stop, Sunset Point, after taking a loop around the island. I can see why Floyd told me that's the spot he recommends visitors go to first: the view of downtown Detroit and Windsor is a sight to behold. I've spent plenty of time in downtown Detroit, but this was one of
the first views I stopped to really take in the sight. Couple the Renaissance Center, the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit River, and you've got a picture-perfect backdrop to spend a wn afternoon reading a book.

While last month's visit was my first visit to the island, it most certainly will not be my last. It does require a Recreation Passport to enter if coming by car, in case you're curious as well.
The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle.

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