Belle Isle Michigan’s 102nd State Park

Belle Isle Park continues to make its mark as Michigan’s 102nd state park

Belle Isle Park – Detroit’s gem and Michigan’s 102nd state park – offers four seasons of enjoyment and wonderment for visitors from around the state, the nation and the world. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Belle Isle Conservancy, the city of Detroit, Detroit citizens and many partners from all around the state have worked tirelessly to revitalize the island.

Belle Isle Park, a 985-acre island park located in the Detroit River near downtown Detroit, is rich with natural beauty and historical and cultural resources. It is home to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, a golf course, the James Scott Memorial Fountain and many other popular leisure and recreational activities. In addition to Belle Isle attracting 3.8 million visitors to the island this past year, here are other highlights:

Belle Isle feature video

View the new 60-second video showcasing Belle Isle. Experience the park’s most popular attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities, and discover why Belle Isle is a gem of Detroit and Michigan.

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DNR to host wildlife hike March 14 on Belle Isle

Join staff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division Saturday, March 14, for a hike through the woods of Belle Isle looking for signs of predators and prey on the Detroit island park.

The tour begins at 10 a.m. at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo parking lot, at the corner of Lakeside Drive and Oakway Road. This program is appropriate for all ages and will last about an hour. Plan to dress for the weather, including boots. The event, sponsored by the DNR Wildlife Division, is free of charge and does not require preregistration. 

“Many different types of wildlife call Belle Isle home,” said DNR wildlife outreach technician Holly Vaughn. “Some make their living by hunting other animals, while some prefer to munch on plants. We’ll talk about the creatures that live on the island and how they interact with the animals around them.”

The DNR offers monthly wildlife-themed programming on Belle Isle through May. For a complete list of programs, visit

Contact Holly Vaughn at 313-396-6863 with questions.

Remember a Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to Belle Isle Park

Pingree statue Grand Circus Park, Detroit, Michigan

According to his statue in Grand Circus Park in Detroit, Michigan, Hazen S. Pingree is the Idol of the People with a long political career. He served as Mayor of Detroit from 1889-1897 and as Governor of Michigan from 1897-1901. If Pingree had had his way, however, none of that would have happened. When approached with the Republican nomination for Mayor of Detroit, Pingree said, “Mayor? Why?” He claimed to be “too busy making shoes” to know anything about politics.

Hazen Pingree in a photo patch, circa 1893-1894

Hazen Pingree in a photo patch, circa 1893-1894

Humble Beginnings

Hazen Pingree was born on August 30, 1840 in Denmark, Maine. He worked for shoemakers in Maine and then Massachusetts until he enlisted in the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery following the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Pingree heard about the business opportunities available in Detroit from homesick Michiganders while imprisoned in Andersonville. Following the end of the war, he moved to Detroit, and in 1866, he formed the Pingree and Smith Shoe Company. Pingree and Smith became the second largest shoe manufacturer in the United States by 1886.

Pingree’s Political Career

Pingree was a successful businessman but not politically active until his friends in the Republican Party nominated him for mayor in 1889. He initially turned down the nomination. However, he was convinced by former Governor John Bagley to run, and he won. Pingree’s popularity continued to grow, and he was reelected as mayor three times. As mayor, he fought corruption and monopolies, and helped the poor during the 1893 depression. He initiated public works programs similar to the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that were formed during the Great Depression over thirty years later. One such program, known as the Potato Patch Plan, allowed poor people to grow crops on vacant land and gained Pingree the nickname “Potato Patch Pingree.” While campaigning for one of his many reelection campaigns, he had a potato flask made either for himself or one of his supporters, as a play on his nickname.

In 1897, while still mayor, Pingree was elected governor and intended to hold both offices simultaneously. The Michigan Supreme Court, however, ruled against him and he resigned as mayor.

Death of an Idol

After two terms Pingree left office and traveled to Africa for a safari and to study the Boer War. He fell sick and died in London before he could return home. Twenty-five thousand people attended his funeral in Detroit, and the aforementioned Pingree statue in Grand Circus Park was dedicated three years later. To many of his contemporaries, this early Progressive reformer was indeed an “idol of the people.”