Jan 20, 2023 - Things to Do

The peace and quiet of Belle Isle in the winter

The rocky shore along the south side of Belle Isle

The rocky shore along the south side of Belle Isle. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

✌🏽Hey, it's Sam. I'm writing from a deserted Belle Isle to explain why it's worth spending a few hours here this time of year.

Why it matters: Cabin fever and seasonal depression are hitting us hard, even with the warmer-than-average temperatures so far this year.

  • They say you can get vitamin D even while the sun isn't out, so I put that to the test Thursday.

What I saw: Not much. I parked near the soccer fields and walked the shore for 90 minutes. I probably passed a half dozen people in total in about three hours on the island.

  • The DNR stores the picnic tables during the winter, so there's nowhere to sit. But if you find a clean, dry rock next to the water β€” that's even better.

What they're saying: A DNR employee told me they've been seeing more bikers with the warmer weather. The lack of snow has kept snowshoes away, "which has been kind of a bummer," the employee told me.

  • I also spoke to a man who preferred not to give his name while walking up the rocks near the water, who told me that huge sheets of ice appear on the south fishing pier when it gets cold. He hadn't seen any this year, though.

The intrigue: The outdoor gardens β€” closed since November for renovations β€” will return this May.

  • But the conservatory, its dome wrapped in scaffolding, won't reopen until next year.
  • All other island attractions remain open, including the Belle Isle Aquarium (Friday-Sunday, 10am-4pm) and the Oudolf Garden (regular park hours).

What's next: As part of the DNR's Stewardship Saturdays, volunteers are invited to help cut invasive shrubs, to restore the wet mesic flatwoods on the island tomorrow from 9am-12pm. Pre-register here.

  • Winterfest, the Belle Isle Nature Center's annual winter celebration, is next Saturday, Jan. 28, from 11am-3pm.
  • Some programming at the free event, like snowshoe hiking and ice carving, is weather permitting.

The bottom line: The calm of the island, made possible by so few cars, makes Belle Isle an unlikely destination in the winter.

  • Have someone clean up the goose poop β€” which becomes a greater obstacle with less employees during the winter β€” and it'd be perfect.

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