Located between the United States and Canada, Detroit’s Belle Isle is the third largest island in the Detroit River –even larger than Central Park in New York City! With just under 1,000 acres of land, Belle Isle offers plenty of places to visit and see or plenty of space to spend a lazy summer afternoon away from the city heat.
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and the Belle Isle Aquarium are grouped together on the southwest side of the island. The Dossin Museum features exhibits on Great lakes Maritime history covering everything from freighters to the famous Miss Pepsi hydroplane. Facing the riverfront is the wheelhouse from the William Clay Ford freighter, offering visitors the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be the captain of a ship. The museum property outside also boasts an anchor recovered from the Edmund Fitzgerald and cannons from Commodore Hazard Perry’s victory of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Additionally, William Livingstone Memorial Light, built in 1929, is located on the island and remains the only marble lighthouse in the United States.
Across the street from the Dossin Museum, people can visit the Whitcomb Conservatory, which houses exotic plants from around the world, including bananas, coffee, orange, and sugar plants, as well as a variety of cacti. Next to the Conservatory are the remains of the Belle Isle Aquarium. The Aquarium was open from 1904-2005, when Detroit budget cuts forced it to close. During its time, the aquarium was the oldest running aquarium in the United States. Preservation groups recently secured funding to restore the aquarium and renovations begin in May of this year. Check the websites, as the hours are limited for these places due to funding, but they are all free to the public when open.
A short jaunt north on the island takes visitors to the Belle Isle Zoo. The Zoo is a microcosm of plants and animals found around Michigan. Aside from informative exhibits, the Zoo offers a small petting area and deer refuge for children to explore.
The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix also makes it triumphant return this year to the island. CART and IndyCar Races took place on Belle Isle from 1992-2001 and again in 2007. Funding from Detroit for infrastructure improvements allowed racing to commence on the island this season.
Belle Isle also features a number of parks and beaches for gatherings. On almost any windy summer day, visitors can see professional kite fliers around the island. People can also fish from the beaches and bike around the island on the bike paths. The island even features the Belle Isle Casino, which can be rented out for events! People can spend easily a day exploring all the free exhibits and places to visit on Belle Isle. ~Krissy Schwab, Feature Writer