Projects Working to Improve 

Fish, Bird Habitat on Detroit’s Belle Isle Park

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects are helping to restore fish and wildlife habitat on Belle Isle, a city-owned park in the Detroit River.  Belle Isle, which spans 985 acres, is the nation’s largest island park.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a $1,459,649 grant to the Friends of the Detroit River to restore the natural flow of water in Belle Isle’s Blue Heron Lagoon. The 41-acre lagoon discharges to the Detroit River, but fish access to the lagoon is blocked by sheet pile walls, grates and drop structures. The EPA granted another $528,289 to the Friends of the Detroit River for a project known as the Belle Isle South Fishing Pier. That project will create 2.5 acres of protected coastal wetland along the island, immediately downstream of the sturgeon reef that was installed in 2004. And the Detroit Zoological Society, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to restore common tern habitat on the north end of Belle Isle. The migratory birds are a threatened species.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat
  • Altered natural shoreline
  • Decreased fish and bird populations

Results and Accomplishments

Common terns have already returned to nest at the north end of Belle Isle.  Work was just beginning in 2011 on the Blue Heron Lagoon and South Fishing Pier projects. The wetland and habitat restoration projects will increase fish and wildlife habitat in the Detroit River and bolster efforts to eliminate beneficial use impairments in the Detroit River Area of Concern.


A sign in front of the Belle Isle Lagoon restoration project

A view overlooking the Blue Heron Lagoon on Belle Isle in Michigan. The lagoon’s natural flow out into the Detroit River has been restored. Photo credit: Jeff Alexander.