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Belle Isle as "Neglected Gem"

File this one under the "Why Haven't I Written This Yet?" file.

Great story in The Detroit News today about Belle Isle and its challenges by the talented Charlie LeDuff. I hate him for his great ideas and even better writing -- professional hatred, mind you.

He calls Belle Isle a "neglected gem," and that is so true. My last memory of the place is visiting the Nature Center, where there is one snake, some stuffed creatures and a dead grasshopper or two. It is truly a crying shame. This place should be great and it is not.

"If they don't do something soon, all we will pass our children is a pile of rubble," said Ernest Burkeen, the director of Detroit Parks and Recreation under Mayor Dennis Archer and currently the director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Miami.

"Unfortunately, race is always a bogey man. We're giving it away to the suburbs, the argument goes," said Burkeen. "Secondly there is a political culture in Detroit where you have a bunch of people who are against everything. They can't give you a better way. They simply say no."

Background from Wikipedia: Belle Isle is a 982 acre (3.9 kmĀ²; 2.42 sq mi) island park in the Detroit River managed by the Detroit Recreation Department. It is connected to the rest of the city by the MacArthur Bridge. It is the largest island park in the United States and the third largest island in the Detroit River after Grosse Ile and Fighting Island.

LeDuff highlights:

The island, like the city, is plagued by neglect. Take the Belle Isle Zoo. It was closed by disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2002 for budget reasons. He promised to reopen it, but never did. In the meantime, the zoo has given over to climbing vines and wild dogs.

As the zoo was closed, a million dollars was found to build a holding pen for a few dozen European deer that used to roam the island freely. That contract was awarded to Bobby Ferguson, the mayor's friend who got a lot of contracts during the Kilpatrick years. Today, the holding pen is being dug up and the deer shoved to one corner, since rotting sewer pipes weren't replaced before erecting the pen.

And then there is the Belle Isle Aquarium, a 10,000-square-foot gem with an eight-sided dome that opened in 1904 as the entrance to the botanical conservatory. Kilpatrick closed the aquarium in 2005, saying the $300,000 a year it cost the city to run the place was better used toward things like tearing down abandoned buildings. In the end, he only succeeded in creating another.

The aquarium is still in a good state of repair. Unlike much of Detroit, vandals and nature have yet to ravage it.

Anyone know the latest on getting Belle Isle back to its former glory? There's one I'd like to support.

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