Restoration of Ecologically Rare Area on Belle Isle Underway

Restoration specialists with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are working to restore 200 acres of globally rare, forested wetland at the 2.5-mile-long island park in the Detroit River.
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Belle Isle is home to globally rare wetlands that the Michigan DNR is working to restore. // File Photo
Belle Isle is home to globally rare wetlands that the Michigan DNR is working to restore. // File Photo

Restoration specialists with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are working to restore 200 acres of globally rare, forested wetland at the 2.5-mile-long island park in the Detroit River.

The area is one of the largest wet-mesic flatwoods in existence and one of only six high-quality occurrences left in Michigan, providing habitat for a variety of rare plants, wildlife, and migrating songbirds.

Restoring natural water flow, retaining surface water, and enhancing ecological integrity are the main goals of the project, which began work this past spring. There are a number of steps that will be taken, including:

  • Remove fill that existing trails were built on and replace with accessible boardwalks and primitive trails to restore surface drainage.
  • Remove unused roads that impede water flow.
  • Close Central Avenue in the winter months to protect plants from road salt and create additional nonmotorized winter recreation opportunities.
  • Repair, add or remove culverts and ditch systems associated with roads.
  • Plant native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and wetland plants where infrastructure is removed or altered.
  • Control invasive plant species.

“Both the recently completed Lake Okonoka project, which connected Lake Okonoka with the Detroit River, and flatwoods project on Belle Isle complement each other and are part of the bigger picture for Detroit River restoration,” says Bob Clancy, a DNR Parks and Recreation Division restoration specialist. “Our objective is not only to restore the flatwoods forest and fish habitat, but to enhance recreation at the same time.”

The project is the last of six that will help alleviate beneficial use impairments associated with the Detroit River Area of Concern. The Environmental Protection Agency states that such an impairment means a change in the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of the Great Lakes system sufficient to cause significant environmental degradation.

The timeline was crafted to protect the resident bald eagle nest and will continue through December 2023. Road closures for Central Avenue are scheduled in November and December. Road removal for a central section of Oakway Trail will begin in this fall.

For more information, visit here.

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