LANSING, Mich., May 12, 2023 — The Michigan House of Representatives passed its recommended fiscal 2023-24 budget on Wednesday. In addition to proposing record levels of funding for education, infrastructure, and workforce recruitment and retention, it recommends an investment of over $21 million in Belle Isle.
“Belle Isle is a jewel of Detroit,” said Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). “So many families in Detroit, including my own, have unforgettable memories of Belle Isle, be it a trip to the aquarium, visiting the fountain, riding bikes or grilling outside in the summer. I’m thrilled that we are reinvesting in this park and its facilities for future generations to enjoy.”
Although Belle Isle is the second-most visited state park in the U.S., a number of its facilities have fallen into disrepair. Several buildings are currently closed to staff and the public due to the presence of hazardous materials, including the Belle Isle Boathouse. The proposed funding is anticipated to go toward the remediation of blighted buildings and removal of the abandoned Belle Isle Zoo so the area can be repurposed. The Department of Natural Resources has solicited input from 7,000 Detroiters on ideas for future uses of the site.
“The critical funding proposed would support Michigan’s most-visited state park by addressing a number of priorities,” said Shannon Lott, acting director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Among those are cleanup of hazardous materials and continued restoration of the island’s iconic features. The state hopes to continue investments that will make the park even better for the people of Detroit and the park’s many visitors.”
Shuttered for seven years due to the city of Detroit’s economic emergency, the Belle Isle Aquarium has reinvented itself since reopening in 2012. Improvements, as well as new exhibits, have brought the aquarium back to life, and attendance has soared. However, the heat of the aquarium has required staff to bring in extra ice in the summer to keep fish at a safe temperature. The attached Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory reaches such cold temperatures in the winter that staff has needed to arrange for temporary emergency heating. Proposed funding may go toward renovating the facility, enhancing the visitor experience and improving its programs.
“More than 5 million Detroiters and people from beyond the region visit Belle Isle every year,” said Michele Hodges, president and CEO of Belle Isle Conservancy. “For generations, it has served as an important place to visit and mark life’s special moments. The proposed investment would help us leverage private and foundation funding to help preserve this treasure of Detroit for future generations.”
Funding may also go toward the park’s beachfront and beach house, one of Detroit’s most popular refuges to relax and cool off during the summer months. Park visitors fill the beach area to capacity on most weeknights and weekends during the summer.
“Michigan’s natural beauty is truly unparalleled,” said state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of Natural Resources. “I’m extremely pleased to see robust investments like this one in the parks, trails and natural resources throughout the state that just about every Michigander loves and cherishes.”