What comes to mind when you think of Detroit? Sports teams? Auto Companies? Eminem? Not many people think of restoring coastal wetlands and creating new habitat for wildlife – but that’s exactly what is happening at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, only a few miles from downtown Detroit.
The Refuge has taken a tangle of invasive species and the hardened shoreline of a former industrial site and restored over 454 acres of coastal wetland and riparian habitat. The project would not have gone anywhere without the public and private partnerships that helped create a master plan that both supported community needs and created valuable new habitat. So far, the Refuge has created hundreds of acres of coastal habitat – habitat that would not exist otherwise. Steps to create the Refuge included daylighting a stream (taking it out of an underground culvert and thus allowing access), creating man-made wetlands, and softening shoreline. The Refuge also worked to create a place that the community could enjoy – including a “greenway” and “blueway”: hiking and biking trails on land and boat launches and kayak access on the water. These efforts are enormously significant as the Refuge is located on the last undeveloped mile of shoreline along the Detroit River.
The Refuge has already seen exceptional results from their efforts. After the construction of the Fighting Island Sturgeon Reef, Lake Sturgeon were found in the Detroit River after 40 years of absence. A few years later, researchers found that the Sturgeon were successfully reproducing along the reef, a massive triumph considering the legacy of habitat degradation in and along the river.
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is the only international wildlife refuge in North America. It brought two countries together over a shared resource and fostered partnerships among numerous public and private entities to restore shoreline, create habitat, and improve the community. More information on the Refuge can be found on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge page.