Reconnecting the Blue Heron Lagoon

to the Detroit River

Reconnecting the Blue Heron Lagoon to the Detroit River provided a home for turtles, small fish, snakes, and frogs to grow and thrive—habitat improvements that can help get the Detroit River removed from the list of the region’s most toxic water bodies.


Detroit’s Blue Heron Lagoon is located on the eastern end of Belle Isle—a state park in the Detroit River. This island park—larger than New York’s Central Park—has undergone substantial changes in the past that have hurt fish and wildlife habitat. Barriers, like sheet pile walls, grates and drop structures, were installed to regulate the flow of water, but they prevented fish and other wildlife from easily moving back and forth between the Detroit River and the more sheltered wetland areas offered by the lagoon. Barriers, like the ones installed at the Blue Heron Lagoon, and expansive development from cities have both contributed to the loss of wetland areas throughout the Detroit River, with about 97 percent of original coastal wetlands destroyed. The sheltered waters of the lagoon were closed off artificially for many years, until 2011, when the Friends of the Detroit River won a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to reconnect the lagoon to the Detroit River.  By reconnecting the Blue Heron Lagoon to the Detroit River, the natural habitat was restored, providing shelter for fish and wildlife and creating a nursery environment for fry fish. The restoration of the Blue Heron Lagoon is one small step to restore the Detroit River and have it removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list, which lists the region’s most degraded waterways.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Stagnant water
  • Lack of fish nursery habitat
  • Lack of turtle habitat
  • Low habitat diversity


A barge working on restoring part of the Belle Isle lagoon

An excavator on a barge moves sediment from one location to another in the Blue Heron Lagoon. By changing the depth of the water column, a variety of habitats are being created. Photo credit: Friends of the Detroit River.

Results and Accomplishments

The 41-acre Blue Heron Lagoon now slowly flows out to the Detroit River, under a foot bridge that allows Belle Isle Park pedestrians to enjoy the view. The depth of the bottom of the lagoon was varied to provide several different habitat environments for different species of fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, and plant life. State-listed species including the endangered Eastern Fox Snake and Blanding’s Turtle live in the lagoon and the changes made to the area will help improve their habitat. A small peninsula has been built out into the waters of the lagoon to provide space for turtles to nest in. The Blue Heron Lagoon has been redesigned to incorporate space for fish, amphibians, plants, and humans, contributing to the health of the wildlife in the area and taking the Detroit River one step closer to being removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list.

Belle Isle lagoon

The newly installed peninsula has plants blooming all around and has become a favorite spot for turtles to sun themselves. A variety of spaces installed in the lagoon are providing habitat for many species. Photo credit: Friends of the Detroit River.

Native marsh plants.

Native species have been planted around Blue Heron Lagoon, both in and around the water. Native wildlife will be able to thrive thanks to the work these students have done. Photo from: Friends of the Detroit River.