Photo of Detroit River Belle Isle and Downtown Detroit River Front

Projects on the Detroit River

In 1815, the Detroit River shoreline included coastal wetlands up to a mile wide. Since then, shoreline hardening, industrial pollution, combined sewer overflow contamination and deep shipping channel excavation has destroyed all but a few acres of this former, wildlife-rich environment. This loss of natural habitat resulted in the Detroit River being named an “Area of Concern” (AOC) under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada – one of 43 AOCs on the Great Lakes. The Detroit River AOC was originally plagued with 11 Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) – or damages – resulting from 200 years of degradation. Notable among these BUIs are “loss of fish and wildlife habitat” and “degradation of fish and wildlife populations.”

In 2014, the Detroit River Public Advisory Council, chaired by Michigan Sea Grant, published a guidance document to remove fish and wildlife related BUIs. This document lists 14 habitat restoration projects that must be completed to remove the two fish and wildlife related BUIs. Several of these projects are complete, and the remainder are in some phase of progress. A summary of selected projects managed by Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is provided below.

In addition to projects targeted to delist the Detroit River as an Area of Concern, FDR completed the following restoration projects.

1815 Detroit River

The Detroit River 1815

Detroit River AOC – Sugar Island Habitat Restoration

Sugar Island is an uninhabited, 30-acre island at the mouth of the Detroit River near Lake Erie. It is entirely owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. This area of the Detroit River serves as one of the most important spawning areas for western Lake Erie. Significant, positive recreational and economic impacts are anticipated because of this project that will enhance quality of life for southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio and further strengthen the Great Lakes fishery, worth more than $7 billion annually....READ MORE

Sugar Island Restoration Project

Sugar Island Habitat Restoration Project

Detroit River AOC – Lake Okonoka Habitat Restoration Design

Belle Isle is positioned at the "gateway" to the Detroit River. Here, the river's water quality is at its best, clear and fast flowing from Lake St. Clair. Recognized as Detroit's most popular open space, the island's unique, 200-acre, wet-mesic flatwoods forest along with its interconnecting lakes and canals provide a significant framework for fish and wildlife habitat. However, most of the island's internal waterways are isolated from the river and the Great Lakes. This project makes advancements in reconnecting Belle Isle's internal waterways to the river and restoring the wet-mesic flatwoods forest to enhance habitat for a great diversity of animal and plant species.... READ MORE

Lake Okonowa

Lake Okonoka on Belle Isle

Celeron Island Restoration

Celeron Island, comprised of sixty-eight uninhabited acres at the mouth of the Detroit River near Lake Erie, is owned entirely by the State of Michigan and is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) through the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. This area of the Detroit River serves as one of the most important spawning areas for western Lake Erie. Significant positive recreational and economic impacts are anticipated because of this project that will enhance quality of life for southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio and further strengthen the Great Lakes fishery worth more than.... READ MORE

Stony and Celeron Island Restoration Project

Celeron Island

Stony Island Restoration

Stony Island is part of the "Conservation Crescent" surrounding the lower end of Grosse Ile and is well recognized for its biodiversity. However, decades of erosion greatly reduced the wetlands surrounding this island. Breakwater structures that once protected the island's north and south bays were nearly eliminated. This project involved reconstructing these breakwaters to protect the island's valuable coastal wetlands from further degradation.... READ MORE

Stony and Celeron Island Restoration Project

Stony Island

Invasive Species Prevention and Control on Belle Isle – Detroit River

This project completes a comprehensive aquatic invasive species control and outreach program on Belle Isle, an historic island park and significant recreation area in the Detroit River. Youth-based employment groups and interested stakeholders are partnering with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Friends of the Detroit River (FDR). The invasive species control work plan is designed to protect the island's diverse ecosystem and recently completed habitat restoration projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. A Science and Education Advisory Board is providing oversight for development of aquatic invasive species .... READ MORE

Belle Isle

Belle Isle

Blue Heron Lagoon

This project involved restoring an entire wildlife community with newly created habitat for the reproduction and rearing of fish, herpetofauna, migrating birds and waterfowl. Specific improvements include breaching the lagoon to the river by constructing a 100-foot-wide opening spanned by a pedestrian bridge and the removal of a drop structure and grates at the former pump station discharge channel (creating a second, smaller opening between the lagoon and river). The new openings allow the lagoon to capture river flow containing non-swimming fish larva into its zooplankton-rich nursery habitat. The openings are accompanied by a new 1.6-acre, upland prairie.... READ MORE

Blue Lagoon near Belle Isle

Blue Heron Lagoon on Belle Isle

South Fishing Pier

This project is located between the South Fishing Pier and the shoreline of Belle Isle. It features three "breakwater" barriers, consisting of core stone and 2-ton anchor stone, positioned parallel to the pier. In addition, three rock underwater berms running perpendicular to the pier protect a newly created aquatic nursery habitat from freighter wake and ice flows. The project area is 1,200 feet long and 90 feet wide. Within the protected zone, three, 0.2-acre pools dredged to 10 feet deep provide attractive drop-off zones for fish. Dredgings from the pools were placed in surrounding areas, raising river bottom elevations to support over 2.5 acres of newly created coastal wetland.... READ MORE

Belle Isle South Fishing Pier Restoration

South Fishing Pier on Belle Isle

Detroit River AOC Habitat Restoration - United States Steel Site

The U. S. Steel (USS) project site is in the City of River Rouge, a highly industrialized part of the Detroit River, where much of the shoreline was hardened with steel and concrete seawalls. Because this site still retained some natural shoreline features, which would lend well to habitat restoration, it was selected for a habitat restoration project by the Detroit River Public Advisory Council. The project goal was to restore over 1,100 feet of emergent shoreline and 4.6 acres of upland habitat in partnership with USS.... READ MORE

US Steel Property Restoration

United States Steel Shoreline

Frank and Poet Creek Stream Bed, Bank and Shoreline Restoration Project

The Frank and Poet Creek site running through the City of Trenton, like most creeks in the area, acts as a main conveyance of stormwater from the surrounding watershed to the Detroit River. Highly impacted from flashy flows and loss of habitat, this project was designed to stabilize the creek's banks, improve habitat, reduce localized stormwater runoff and provide educational opportunities for area students.... READ MORE

Frank and Poet Creek Restoration Project

Frank and Poet Creek Restoration Project