Jun 9, 2022 - News

Belle Isle is loved, but needs more love

Estimated expenses of Michigan's most visited state parks, 2021
Data: Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Belle Isle is Michigan's most popular state-run park, drawing 5.6 million visits last year.

  • That's more than double the next most-visited, Holland State Park.

Why it matters: While Belle Isle is much-loved, its infrastructure is old after enduring years of disinvestment.

The big picture: It has the biggest operating budget of any state park by far, but that figure is a small fraction compared with the huge capital improvement needs the island has.

  • The state's parks and rec chief, Ron Olson, tells Axios those needs will cost upwards of $200 million.
  • They range from fixing stormwater drainage to repairing fishing piers and improving roads, according to a state master plan. Some work has already been done, like renovating parts of the conservatory and the first phase of a new trail.

Give input: The state Department of Natural Resources is asking for public feedback through July 4 on how to remake Belle Isle's languishing abandoned zoo area.

What we're watching: The big conversation is around vehicle safety, especially after a Memorial Day hit-and-run car crash on the island killed a 12-year-old girl and hurt another.

  • Speeding has been a problem on Belle Isle for years and concerned residents say there's not enough traffic control measures to mitigate the danger, according to BridgeDetroit.
A sunrise over the Detroit River with a field in the foreground.
A Belle Isle sunrise. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios
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