Detroit’s in-city Olmstead-designed island, Belle Isle, has long been a place of recreation and escape for residents and suburbanites. Family and church reunions, birthday parties and barbecues descend on the island in droves in the summer, while the obligatory family photo by the island’s centerpiece fountain remains an essential part of the city’s visual vernacular.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet and Detroit native, Phillip Levine, wrote about the park in the poem “Belle Isle, 1949,”: We stripped in the first warm spring night / and ran down into the Detroit River / to baptize ourselves in the brine / of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,/ melted snow …
In 2014, after years of mismanagement, neglect and delayed maintenance, Belle Isle was placed under state control, making it Michigan’s 102nd state park. While this, like the city’s resurgence, has been met with mixed sentiment, the park belongs to the heart of Detroiters, a place that evokes a connectedness to family, place, and the past and a sense of escapism from city life.