Photo of Detroit River Wildlife and Habitat Restoration Organization

About Us - Friends of the Detroit River

Our History

In the early 1990's, a small group of concerned citizens joined together to prevent the establishment of a deep injection well in the Melvindale area. They formed a group known as the Friends of the Detroit River (FDR). That deep injection well did not happen, but the group that helped to stop the project realized there were other issues that threatened the Detroit River, such as air and water pollution, development, and habitat loss and degradation.

The organization recognized a serious threat to the Detroit River with the announcement of plans in 1996 to develop homes, a marina, and a golf course on the 410 acre Humbug Marsh property, which sits in both Trenton and Gibraltar. The mile long Humbug Marsh shoreline is the only remaining natural shoreline on the U.S. side of the Detroit River. FDR rallied its members and joined with other citizens groups to oppose the developers. FDR membership increased dramatically, demonstrating the great concern of local residents about the potential loss of this valuable habitat for fish and wildlife. After a contentious seven year battle, the developers were unable to acquire the permits necessary to proceed to develop the property, and were forced to file for bankruptcy in 2003. The property, which includes a 30 acre island, was purchased by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), as a temporary owner, in 2003. One year later, the federal government purchased the property from TPL and Humbug Marsh was protected, incorporated into the newly established Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

In the meantime, FDR became aware of an international organization called the Waterkeeper Alliance, which establishes programs of water keepers to serve as citizens' advocates for particular bodies of water. The Alliance programs closely mirrored the ideals of FDR. FDR applied to become a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and was accepted, and celebrated the inception of the Detroit Riverkeeper Program in the fall of 2002. FDR hired the first Detroit Riverkeeper, and raised funds for a patrol boat, which has been on the water since 2005.

The fight to save Humbug was a major preoccupation for FDR for those seven years, but the organization was already looking to expand its reach and to set priorities for a post-Humbug Marsh era. FDR began to seek small grants to work on projects that would lead to improvements in water quality and habitat protection and restoration. One example of such a grant was the Frank and Poet Shoreline Restoration Project in Trenton, which transformed about 300 feet of degraded shoreline into a shoreline with a riparian buffer of deep rooted plants on both sides, with improved water quality and habitat.

During this early post-Humbug period, the Environmental Protection Agency asked FDR to consider reviving the Detroit River Remedial Action Plan (RAP), which had been essentially inactive for several years. The RAP consists of area stakeholders (businesses, local governments, and citizens), and the RAP's Public Advisory Council (PAC) identifies impairments to the river's health and proposes projects to address those impairments. The RAP and its PAC is the conduit for habitat restoration grants. FDR has led and served as the fiduciary for the PAC since the revival of the RAP.

The expansion of FDR's responsibilities has led to many things. FDR recognized that it needed staffing to accomplish many of its more ambitious objectives. The organization hired a part-time office manager, and later switched that position to full-time, when the title changed to Director of Operations. FDR, through the PAC, received three Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants in 2010 totaling about $3 million, for two projects on Belle Isle and one at U.S. Steel in Ecorse, which were successfully completed in 2013. Since then, FDR, through the PAC, has received habitat restoration grants for the removal of invasive plant species on Belle Isle, and planning grants for habitat restoration on Stony and Celeron Islands, and for Lake Okonoka on Belle Isle.

With all the challenges and threats that remain to the Detroit River, there is much history yet to be made by the Friends of the Detroit River.

Board Members

  • David Howell - Chairman
  • Matthew Shackelford - Treasurer
  • Kayla McRob - Secretary
  • Mary Bohling - Board Member
  • Laurine Griffin - Board Member
  • Mark Johnson - Board Member
  • Lydia Levinson - Board Member
  • Jane Mackey - Board Member
  • Victoria Murphy - Board Member
  • Michael Sproul - Board Member


  • Tricia Blicharski - Dir. of Operations
  • Robert Burns - Riverkeeper
  • Kaylee Peterson - Community Outreach Coordinator
  • Lou Ann Durand - Adm. Assistant
  • Sam Lovall - Project Manager
  • Orin Gelderloos - Advisor
  • Patricia Hartig - Advisor
  • Blair McGowan - Advisor
  • Harriet Saperstein - Advisor
Friends of the Detroit at Humbug Marsh on the Lower Detroit River

FDR at Humbug Marsh

Friends of the Detroit at Humbug Marsh on the Lower Detroit River

FDR Detroit River Cleanup 2014

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