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Current Challenges Facing Belle Isle

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

As the Belle Isle Conservancy Website has pointed out, Belle Isle has been passed through many hands. You can read about the history of Belle Isle here.This is useful because it gives a general overview of the beginning of the island and how it came to be. It has a varied history with many different groups claiming ownership of the island before finally being taken over by the city. This history provides an interesting background to the latest developments on Belle Isle.

Melvadean “Mebby” Pearson is a volunteer coordinator on Belle Isle. Mebby works with the Friends of Belle Isle, a group focused on the ecological preservation of Belle Isle. The Friends of Belle Isle has a particular focus on preventing the spread of invasive species to Belle Isle and removing the invasive species already present on the island. In 1972 the non-profit volunteer organization Friends of Belle Isle was established, dedicating themselves to the upkeep of the environment of the treasured island. The Friends’ main role was to lobby for improved infrastructure to allow them to maintain clean spaces, while they adopted an increasingly active environmental concern with the removal of invasive plant and animal species.

Three other volunteer organizations have also been founded to improve and preserve specific aspects of Belle Isle: the Botanical Society in 1988 to assist the running and funding of the Conservatory, the Belle Isle Women’s Committee in 2004 concerned with the infrastructure and maintenance of the various monuments on the island, and the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium in 2005 upon the closure of the formerly popular attraction, making their sole goal its reopening. These four organizations joined to form Belle Isle’s leading advocacy group in 2011, the Belle Isle Conservancy.

While the Conservancy outlines the financial ownership of the Island, what also needs to be included is the perception of ownership by the city residents and private businesses. The members of the community have long viewed the Island as “their own backyard”, and something residents have cared about deeply. A volunteer coordinator on the Island, Mebby Pearson, explained that there were 20,000 hours that volunteers put in on the Island from 2010-2014. Keeping Belle Isle running would not be possible without the members who take that sense of ownership over Belle Isle. This ownership has also extends to the private companies and donors who take part in building and maintenance of the island.

As the past becomes the present, the current state of affairs over the Island have appeared in the headlines once again. In February 2014, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources began a thirty-year lease on Belle Isle, which the city lacks the funds to maintain. Within a somewhat contested environmental perception of Belle Isle as “Detroit’s Backyard,” some feel a sense of loss or embarrassment. Others see this as a way to begin fresh. It is a chance to become a part of the change. Click here to become a volunteer, and take ownership of the Island.

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

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