Belle Isle kayaking, canoeing plans highlighted

Kyla Smith

Some new summer activities are being offered at Belle Isle with the hope of making the island a key destination for Michiganians.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Affairs Coalition and Riverside Kayak Connection announced a new Detroit Heritage River Water Trail on Tuesday at the park's beach.

The newly designed water trail promises guided tours along the Detroit River with 23 paddling points, including Rotary Park, Elizabeth Park and Lake Erie Metropark south and north. Kayak and canoe rentals will be on hand with prices ranging between $10 and $15.

During summer planning, trail guides will run sample trips along the river for residents to give additional feedback.

"This is really an exciting time with new opportunities for Belle Isle," said Susan Phillips, project manager of the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail. "This is the second launch of the project and we are hoping to get community involvement on the new activities."

The new trail is expected to be completed in December. Officials also hope to revive other favorite park activities, such as horseback riding, by next summer.

"Our goal is to try and bring back Belle Isle as it once was," said Karis Floyd, park manager. "We are working really hard to rebuild the hiking and biking trails and bring back horseback riding."

Cheri Meyer, public access/water quality specialist for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the trail project is estimated to cost $324,000. Grants will cover most of that cost, she said.

With the addition of new summer activities and food vendors, some business owners are expanding their services to accommodate park visitors.

"I rent out beach chairs and umbrellas so people won't have to lug it with them," said Alicia Chapman, owner of a rental business called Caliente Detroit. "Last summer, I noticed there was a high demand for ice, so now people can purchase ice and rent a chair."

Belle Isle last year became a state park as part of a cost-cutting move for Detroit, which still owns the island. An annual $11 state park pass is required for entry.

"The top priority is the island and we are going to enhance the park experience for its users," said Michelle Hodges, president of Belle Isle Conservancy.