The El Moore and Belle Isle: Nature in the City

ConservatoryThe El Moore, a beautifully restored 1898 building that offers long-term and short-term sustainable urban living options, has experienced in its “lifetime” the same experiences of beauty, accessibility, decline, and new and ongoing restoration as one of the “jewels” of Detroit, Belle Isle Park. Both the El Moore and Belle Isle Park are shining examples of sustainability efforts and activities in Detroit.

Belle Isle is a recreational island park located on the Detroit River between Detroit, Michigan USA and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. In the mid-1800s, there arose a movement to develop urban parks, and in 1845, the City of Detroit hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to develop and design Belle Isle. Mr. Olmstead also designed Central Park in New York City, but at approximately 945 acres, Belle Isle is actually larger than Central Park!

In the last few decades, the fiscal challenges faced by the City of Detroit were mirrored in Belle Isle, which caused a decline and closing of many of the beloved amenities of the park. While the City of Detroit still owns the island, an agreement with the State of Michigan was signed that leases the property to the State so the Michigan Department of  Natural Resources operates and cares for the park. Belle Isle is also now the 102nd Michigan State Park. Motor vehicles must purchase an annual Recreation Passport to enter the Island ($11 for Michigan vehicles and $5 for motorcycles), but the same Recreation Passport allows the purchaser access to all of the State Parks in Michigan. A Day Pass is available for $9. There is no charge for bicycles and their riders to enter the Park, and DDOT Bus Service is now available with several stops within the Park for no additional charge other than the $1.50 bus fare. The #12 Conant Route is the bus that serves the Park about every 50 minutes seven days a week. Belle Isle Park is open year-round from 5 am – 10 pm.

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Designed as a nature park, Belle Isle offers many different attractions for all ages; a few venues have additional fees to offset the cost of upkeep.

  • The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, managed by the Detroit Historical Society, is open Saturday and Sunday year-round and on Fridays during the summer. This maritime museum was originally built on the J.T. Wing, the last commercial sailing ship on the Great Lakes. There is no additional admission fee.
  • BelleIsleNatureZooThe Belle Isle Nature Zoo is open Wednesdays – Sundays and has no additional admission fee. This indoor facility, managed by the Detroit Zoological Society, offers educational programs and a chance to meet deer and other creatures face-to-face.
  • The Belle Isle Aquarium, the oldest aquarium in the United States, was designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn and is managed by the Belle Isle Conservancy. There is no additional admission fee to view 118 species, over 1,000 fish, and a variety of Belle Isle memorabilia.
  • The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is open year-round on Wednesdays – Sundays and has no additional admission fee. The 13-acre Conservatory is the oldest continually operating venue of its type in the United States and offers a formal perennial garden, seasonal floral beds, a lily pond garden, and five separate flora sections: the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Show House, the Cactus House, and the Fernery.
  • The James Scott Memorial Fountain is open and the water turned on during the summer, and of course the water is turned off during the colder seasons to avoid freezing.
  • The Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, built in 1929, is the only lighthouse in the United States constructed entirely of marble. The Lighthouse can only be viewed from the north side of the park; there are presently no tours.

Photo credit: Glenn Moon. Historic Belle Isle Master Plan by Hamilton Associates, Detroit Michigan.

Belle Isle Park is a park, and there are many ways to enjoy different recreational activities; some of the activities have additional fees. Besides biking around the Island, you can enjoy rounds of golf, fishing, watercraft and snowshoe rentals, carriage rides, pedicab rides, playgrounds, relaxing on the beaches, and of course, the famous Giant Slide, which costs $1.00. Groups can also reserve one of the several shelters for family reunions and other activities for an additional fee.

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Find out complete information about Belle Isle Park by logging onto the official website.

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