Tom Kraft of St. Clair Shores skies through Belle Isle on Sunday. Kraft supports the state takeover of Detroit's island park. 'I think it'll make a great place even better,' he said. (George Hunter / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park Mondayas the state Department of Natural Resources began running the island park in a move that is expected to save the city up to $6 million a year and infuse tens of millions of dollars in clean-up and upgrades.
Access to the 982-acre island has been free and will remain so for pedestrians. But the state plans to begin phasing in a requirement that vehicle drivers have an annual recreation passport indication on their license plate to enter the park.
The passport costs $11 for vehicles and $5 for motorcycles and can be bought when drivers renew their license plate registration through the Secretary of State or at the park, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The passport also allows drivers to enter any state park or recreation area.
The fee will help finance upgrades on the island, where conditions have deteriorated in recent decades when the park was run by the city.
“I’m all for the state taking over,” said St. Clair Shores resident Tom Kraft, who skied on the island Sunday and said he hikes and rides his bicycle there during the summer. “I think it’ll make a great place even better.”
Detroit Police Harbormaster Unit officers assigned to the Belle Isle station on Saturday cleaned out their belongings, some of which have been in the building since it was built in 1893.
Officers were initially told they and the DNR would share the building, which is listed on the city, state and federal historic registries, as are all structures on the island. But officers were informed by state officials Wednesday they had four days to move out.
While the DNR will patrol the island, the harbormaster unit will continue operating out of the police boathouse at the foot of the MacArthur Bridge.
Harbormaster officers also plan to move with them a several-ton anchor, originally taken from the Civil War gunboat the USS Yantic, that was transported a few years ago to the Belle Isle precinct from in front of the R. Thornton Brodhead Armory on Jefferson after scrappers tried to steal it.
Midtown resident Ron Smith, who attended the Detroit Garden Center’s annual meeting Sunday at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, said he looked forward to improvements after the state takeover.
“I think the state is going to put money into the island the city doesn’t have,” said Smith, 62. “I’m very happy, and I look forward to see what changes are going to happen.”
The City Council balked at a 2012 proposal by then-Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder to lease operations to state government.
The council countered with an alternative plan when Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr last year proposed a 30-year lease that was approved by the state Emergency Loan Board run by the governor’s appointees.
During the 90-day transition, teams have revamped 100 picnic tables, assessed light poles, removed and chipped about 160 diseased and dangerous trees, and worked on educational materials to inform park users mostly about the newly required annual $11 recreation passport, state officials said.
Other repairs are in the works.
The state Department of Environmental Quality and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department plan to discuss stormwater management improvements for the island. The DNR has said it is pursuing grant money for associated studies to determine appropriate options. A pilot project on the island is in progress as well in an effort to identify ways to avoid unnecessary costs.
In January, city and state officials met with representatives from Vintage Hotels to discuss the company’s $40 million proposal for the dilapidated Detroit Boat Club.
The company, which owns seven hotels in southern Ontario, envisions a project with a 100- to 120-room boutique hotel and several restaurants.
The state’s safety plan for the island features patrols including motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, boats, canoes and kayaks. The shift will free up 22 Detroit Police officers who have been assigned to Belle Isle operations.