Whitmer says crowds on Belle Isle concerning

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Temperatures in the 70's last weekend sent people flocking to Belle Isle, prompting the state to close the park twice, and now the governor said she's concerned and will have more to say about it this week.

From left, Demeeka Lewis, 40, of Southfield and Queda McDaniel, 41, of Detroit relax in lounge chairs while they and others enjoy the sunshine in the evening, staying a safe distance apart, on Belle Isle in Detroit on April 2, 2020.

State parks have remained opened during the pandemic, but on Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she the packed crowds on Belle Isle and at other parks may be impeding the efforts to slow the coronavirus.

She said she expects to have more to say about the state parks on Wednesday. 

“I’m very concerned about it,” Whitmer said during a press conference Monday. “We’ve seen across the country ... the cautious optimism that we’ve shared when we see cases plateau. Some people are assuming that we’re out of the woods and that’s why we have to keep doing the work. We have to all keep doing our part.”

Under Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive orders, residents are allowed to travel to parks, trails and public spaces within their community. 

Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said Monday that the two closures at Belle Isle on Sunday were primarily due to vehicles exceeding capacity. 

The state took over Belle Isle park under a 30-year lease that began in February 2014. The agreement has saved the city millions annually in operating costs.

Whitmer warned on Monday that dropping social-distancing practices makes communities vulnerable to a second wave.

“As tough as this moment has been, as great of the price as we have paid in this moment, we know we don’t want to do it again,” she said.

“So let’s not make all the work that we’ve done merit-less. Let’s not make it for naught. Let’s make sure that we continue to do the right thing by wearing masks, by keeping social distancing. I am very concerned as people abandoned that that they’re going to be vulnerable and create vulnerabilities for others that they don’t intend to."