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belle isle

Spectators watching a car race
Mike Boening Photography / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Tom Perkins, a reporter for Detroit Metro Times, kicked off his conversation with Stateside by detailing a satirical gearhead protest happening outside of the Michigan International Speedway:

Two of the protesters against holding the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Grand Prix will draw thousands of auto racing fans to Belle Isle starting next week. But not everyone is happy about it.

A group of those opponents took this weekend before the IndyCar race to stage a protest just off the bridge entrance to the island park.

oak wilt
Greg Blick / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0 cropped

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will discuss efforts to combat oak wilt disease in trees on Belle Isle in Detroit.

Public informational meetings are scheduled Thursday at the Nature Zoo and Great Lakes Dossin Museum on the island park in the Detroit River.

The state says oak wilt is a fungus that can spread from tree to tree through underground root connections, or grafts. Spores also can be spread by beetles attracted to the fungus' smell.

Sheba the Elephant at the Belle Isle Zoo during the 1940s
1940s Detroit Zoo Guide - Asian Elephant Net website

"She is five tons of gray, ponderous beauty."

That's how Rex G. White of the Detroit News described the now-forgotten treasure of the Belle Isle Zoo: Sheba the Asian elephant.

She arrived in Detroit in 1923 and lived at the Belle Isle Zoo until she died on Jan. 2, 1959.

And it all began with a letter written by a schoolgirl.

Volunteers cleaned the aquarium's glass tile ceiling.
Courtesy of Belle Isle Aquarium

 

One of Detroit’s gems, the Belle Isle Aquarium, had been open since 1904 until the cash-starved city shut the place down in 2005 and shipped all 4,000 fish elsewhere.

But people who love the aquarium took action, and as a result a reclaimed Belle Isle Aquarium is free and open to everyone.

General manager Fred Huebener joined us today.

This story was updated to include a link to the 2015  Event Price Structure.

After two weeks and several requests via email, telephone, and in person, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has finally revealed information which should have been easily available to anyone.

Historic Belle Isle
Flickr user Don Harrison

Bill Loomis, author of a Detroit News piece "Detroit Before Motors: The Horse Age," talked to us about the 12,000 horses that crowded the streets of Detroit in the late 1800s.

Loomis tells us about the logistics of using horses to get around in the city and horse racing in Detroit.

You can listen to our conversation with Loomis below:


Matt Lavin/ Flickr

A program to remove invasive plants is coming to Detroit's Belle Isle this summer.

A federal grant from the EPA of almost half a million dollars will go to Friends of the Detroit River. Sam Lovall is the project manager. He says removing the invasive plants is really important for the health of the island's ecosystem.

"Although some of them are quite attractive, they tend to overpopulate the area," said Lovall.

"They are very aggressive and they can compete very well with some of our native plants."

David Grant / Flickr

Preparations are well underway as Belle Isle gets primped and polished for the upcoming Grand Prix, officially called the "Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix," from May 30 to June 1. 

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes talked with the man who revived Detroit's Grand Prix in 2007. 

This is the first time the race has been held since the state took over management of Belle Isle. What has been done to prepare for the race and fix up the island?

*Listen to the interview above. 

Detroit News Staff / Walter P. Reuther Library

In the 1920's, Belle Isle was a secret port for smuggling alcohol into the U.S. from Canada. The island was teeming with mobsters on little motor boats who brought liquor over by the jug-full. 

Now that Belle Isle is a state park, alcohol is back to being outlawed, and the place is being patrolled by state police and the Department of Natural Resources.

Many Detroiters have complained that the police are unfairly targeting drivers on the island.

According to Joe Guillen of the Detroit Free Press, since becoming a state park earlier this year there have been about 500 arrests. Among those who were pulled over were Detroit's city clerk, and even the city's mayor Mike Duggan. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The federal government is offering some help to restore the forest on Detroit’s Belle Isle.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow announced the $300,000 grant from the US Forest Service Thursday.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been cutting down a lot of dead and damaged trees on Belle Isle lately, as the island makes its transition to a state park.

The grant will help carry on that effort. It will also help the DNR and community groups reforest the island.

demccain / flickrriver

A new chapter has begun in the long history of Detroit's Belle Isle, which is transitioning to become Michigan's 102nd state park. 

The full change takes place today, as state park officials assume control of the park under the lease imposed by Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr. The move should save the city between $4 and $5 million a year. 

Starting today, motorists will need an $11 state recreation passport to enter the park. 

Detroit Free Press editorial editor Stephen Henderson joins us today to talk about what we can expect for the future of Belle Isle and the city of Detroit. 

Listen to the full interview above. 

Belle Isle has become Michigan's 102nd State Park. What does this new chapter for Belle Isle mean for the city and people of Detroit?

Next, stray animals in Detroit are up for debate since a article by Bloomberg News put the number of strays at 50,000. A Michigan State University professor discusses the findings of her study on the problem. 

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Group files petition today to bump minimum wage to $9.50

"The campaign to raise Michigan’s minimum wage has settled on a target of $9.50 an hour. The group expects to file its petition language later today with state elections officials," Rick Pluta reports.

Belle Isle becomes a state park

Detroit's Belle Isle park becomes Michigan's newest state park today.

"The state is taking over the city-owned park under a lease deal with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. [The move is] expected to save the bankrupt city between $4 million and $6 million a year," the Associated Press reports.

Saginaw school board continues to negotiate deficit elimination plan

"Saginaw school board members will try again tomorrow to hash out a deficit elimination plan. Last week school board members met three times to discuss a plan to trim the district’s multi-million dollar deficit. The plan included layoffs and school closings," Steve Carmody reports.

As Detroit’s Belle Isle is about to become Michigan’s newest state park, the island’s state park advisory committee met for the first time Thursday.

That committee is meant to add a measure of transparency to the island’s new governing scheme, members said they would work to earn Detroiters' trust.

demccain / flickrriver

That per car fee won't go into effect for another 90 days, as the MDNR transitions into running things on Detroit's Belle Isle under a 30-year lease approved yesterday by a state loan board.

Detroit City Council wanted a 10-year lease. More from Crain's Detroit Business:

Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said the reason the state sought a 30-year lease was to be able to apply for grants for park improvements that would require such a time commitment.

The city’s argument for a 10-year lease was that following Detroit’s exit from bankruptcy and a reduction in its structural deficit and a move to a balanced budget, it will have the capacity a decade from now to again properly fund and maintain the 985-acre park.

One member of the loan board overseeing the deal said terms of the deal could be revisited in the future. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan board to consider Belle Isle deal

"A Michigan board is planning to meet to consider proposals to lease Detroit's 985-acre Belle Isle park to the state. Gov. Rick Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr signed a 30-year lease on Oct. 1 to make Belle Isle a state park, saving Detroit $6 million annually in maintenance. But the city council rejected the deal and instead voted for a 10-year lease," the Associated Press reports.

Ex-convict sworn in to Flint City Council

"The new Flint city council was sworn in to office yesterday, including a new councilman who served time for murder. Councilman Wantwaz Davis  served 19 years in prison for murdering a man he claims assaulted his mother," Steve Carmody reports.

Detroit mayor's recount cost Wayne County $5,500

The recount the Board of State Canvassers had to do for Detroit's mayoral primary has cost Wayne County nearly $5,500. The recount came after confusion over the number of write-in votes for then candidate, Mike Duggan. The Detroit Free Press has more.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has rejected a proposal to lease Belle Isle to the state. But the Council is also putting forth its own, alternative lease deal.

Governor Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr already signed a 30-year lease deal last month.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Each week, I review the news with political analyst Jack Lessenberry.

This week we discuss how the government shutdown will affect Michigan, new endorsements in the Detroit mayor's race, and the state agreement to fund Belle Isle.

Something good happened yesterday, something smart and rational that will help improve people’s lives. This was not typical of the day, mind you. Actually, yesterday was a day of supreme irrationality in federal, state and local government.

Nationally, the government shutdown continued, with Republicans vowing to take the nation over a cliff unless Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act. This happened on the same day that millions rushed to sign up for health insurance plans.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, political analyst Jack Lessenberry and Morning Edition host Christina Shockley discuss the government shutdown, glitches in the launch of the health insurance marketplace, and the deal for the state to take over Detroit's Belle Isle.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Shutdown could cost Michigan $18 million a day

"Michigan’s budget chief says the federal shutdown could cost the state $18 million dollars a day in lost funding. Budget Director John Nixon says he does not expect that to happen unless the shutdown lasts more than two weeks. He says, after that, pre-funding for some big programs will run out," Rick Pluta reports.

Delays in Medicaid sign up

"The Michigan Department of Community Health is still working to start early enrollment to help people sign up for Michigan's expanded Medicaid program. Michigan's Medicaid expansion also still needs to be approved by the federal government. That means hundreds of thousands of low-wage Michiganders could have to wait weeks or months to enroll," Jake Neher reports

The state to take over Detroit's Belle Isle

"The state of Michigan has signed a deal to lease Detroit’s Belle Isle. Governor Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr have both approved the 30-year plan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will run Belle Isle as a state park, saving Detroit an estimated $4 million a year in maintenance costs," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan has signed a deal to lease Detroit’s Belle Isle.

Governor Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr have both approved the plan.

The state won’t pay anything for the 30-year deal, which has two 15-year renewal options.

But the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will run Belle Isle as a state park, saving Detroit an estimated $4 million a year in maintenance costs.

Jim Dreyer's Facebook page / Facebook

He very well may be the first shark in Lake St. Clair -- and certainly the first one hauling a ton of bricks.

Long-distance swimmer, motivational speaker, and Michigan native Jim Dreyer -- who calls himself “The Shark” -- finished up a 22-mile swim today from Algonac to Belle Isle. But just in case the swim across Lake St. Clair wasn’t enough, Dreyer raised the stakes on his charity swim for Habitat for Humanity: The Shark is pulling along two dinghies holding 2,000 pounds of bricks.

Dreyer was expected to finish his swim yesterday, but his journey took a day longer than expected.

A post on his Facebook page said he was in good shape as he finished up his swim:

And I am sure most of you figured out he has been swimming over 48 hours, non stop!! Making all long distance open water swimmers proud!! Making Pure Michigan proud too.

Photo courtesy of the DIA

Kevyn Orr is Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager. And he has some pretty extraordinary powers to chart the course of Detroit’s potential bankruptcy—and its future.

Last Friday, Orr took questions from reporters. The very first question he faced was pretty much, ”What’s for sale?”

“Right now there’s nothing for sale, including Howdy Doody.”

Orr was actually referring to the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose collection includes the original puppet from the 1950s children’s TV show. Though no one knows for sure, the DIA’s total assets — which include masterpieces by Van Gogh and Picasso — could be worth about $2.5 billion.

Jonathan Hoard

If you’ve heard about Belle Isle in the news lately, it was probably a story about people fighting over who should control Detroit’s famous island park. Those political fights tend to overshadow the island’s unique ecosystem. It’s a tiny fragment of what southeast Michigan looked like before industrialization.

Recently, some Detroit schoolkids got to take a look at this natural heart of Belle Isle. I had the chance to tag along.

It wasn’t a great day to be out on Belle Isle. In fact, it was pretty miserable.  It was rainy and cold, and a lot of these ninth-graders from Detroit’s Western International High School didn’t exactly dress for the weather. But too bad.

The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle Park.
Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

The issue of whether or not the State would take over Belle Isle was tossed back and forth between Detroit City Council and Lansing like a hot potato.

It finally ground to a halt when City Council tabled a decision on a state deal. Governor Snyder declared the deal dead once that happened.

The State took its offer off the table, saying there was not enough time to get Belle Isle ready for the summer season.

But this political squabbling over Belle Isle has a long history in Detroit and Michigan.

It’s not new.

It goes back to the very first days when Detroiters wanted a park.

That was in 1871, and fireworks were flaring then.

Amy Elliott Bragg is the author of “Hidden History of Detroit” and she blogs about Detroit history at nighttraintodetroit.com.

Amy broke down the history of the Belle Isle purchase - the controversy that was stirred up  over a 100 years ago - and what can we  learn in 2013 about what it took to make Belle Isle a city park.

Listen to the full interview above.

At least one Detroit City Council member thinks that a deal to make Belle Isle into a state park can be salvaged.

The state took the deal off the table last week, after a majority of Council members declined to vote on it. Lansing had set the end of January as the deadline to finalize a lease agreement.

But Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown says he thinks a deal can still get done if both sides are serious about it.

Brown used Governor Snyder's catch phrase when he suggested the Governor “use some relentless positive
action” to push the issue.

Noting that he supported the deal last week along with two others,  says three of his colleagues who voted against considering it are persuadable.

“There’s certainly enough time to ask my colleagues," Brown said.

"I mean, ask them what they need in this deal to change their vote. And then give it to
them. And make sure that the deal gets done.”

Governor Snyder pulled the deal off the table after the failed vote last week, saying that was a hard deadline the Michigan Department of Natural Resources needed to include Belle Isle in this year's state parks programming.

State officials could not be reached for comment on whether the Belle Isle deal could be revived.

Last week, Detroit City Council faced a choice. The state was offering to take over Belle Isle, the largest island city park in the nation, fix it up and run it as part of the state park system.

Had this happened, Belle Isle would have had a new lease on life. The city is unable to maintain it adequately, and many of its once-lovely features have been falling into a shabby state of disrepair.

The city would have still owned Belle Isle, and could cancel the lease and take back park operations in ten years if it decided to. In the meantime, turning Belle Isle over to the state would save the cash-poor city more than six million badly needed dollars a year.

This was a no-brainer of a deal. But alas, brains were not involved in the decision. What prevailed instead were toxic, self-destructive racial identity politics.

City of Detroit

The city of Detroit will close 50 parks in the spring because of the City Council’s inaction on a proposal to make Belle Isle into a state park.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says that would have freed up about $6 million for the city to invest in other parks and recreation centers—and that effectively means $6 million they’d counted on to bolster other park services have disappeared.

So the city is responding by making cuts: closing 50 parks, limiting maintenance at another 38, and canceling plans to extend rec center hours and add 50 employees.

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