Photo of the Blue Heron Lagoon at Belle Isle on the Detroit River

Blue Heron Lagoon

Funded by: Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

Grant Amount: $1,428,994 Match: $30,655

Start/End Date: October 2010 - August 2013

At the Blue Heron Lagoon, restoration work is targeted to enhance the entire wildlife community, providing 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 infrastructure (drop structure and grates) at the old pump station discharge channel. The new opening allows the lagoon to capture river flow containing non-swimming fish larva into its zooplankton-rich nursery habitat. A 0.6-acre peninsula, created from excavated earth and lagoon dredgings, harbors wet prairie plant species, two vernal pools and a sand mound for turtle nesting. Surrounding the peninsula, shallow water emergent wetland and deepwater aquatic plants enhance natural reproduction of Detroit River fish species.

This project involved completing an ecologically based community that provides newly created habitat for the reproduction and rearing of fish, herpetoafauna, migrating birds, waterfowl and wildlife. Improvements included the construction of two 70-foot long channels (100-foot and 33-foot wide, respectively) from Blue Heron Lagoon connecting directly to the Detroit River and the removal of the infrastructure (drop structure and grates) at the old pump station discharge channel.

The project design capitalizes on the Detroit River flow by opening three channels directly to the Detroit River that captures the river flow and brings it into the Blue Heron Lagoon where a zooplankton-rich nursery habitat will maximize the opportunity for non-swimming fish larva to enter the newly created habitat. In addition, the project includes a 1.6-acre upland prairie peninsula incorporating two vernal pools and a sand mound, for herpetoafauna habitat with a direct land bridge back to the island that will promote the survival of these herpetoafauna by providing protection from predators. Surrounding the upland prairie, shallow water emergent wetland and deep water habitat was constructed to enhance natural reproduction of Detroit River target fish species.

The project enhances an existing spawning shoal located 500 feet upstream off the east tip of Belle Isle. The enhancement consists of an experimental spawning bed for native fish in the Detroit River. The design includes a a rectangular shaped spawning bed composed of 6 -10 inch cobble stone placed over the Detroit River bottomland to enhance spawning habitat of the existing fish spawning shoal. The spawning bed is placed on relatively flat areas of the river bottom in approximately 20 feet of water.

Funded in 2010 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), this project was completed in the summer of 2013 to restore critical habitat for fish and wildlife and accelerate removal of Beneficial Use Impairments in this Great Lakes Area of Concern. Led by the Friends of the Detroit River (FDR), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Detroit, Michigan Sea Grant and a suite of other partners, this project makes significant strides to restore the river's ecological function, structure, and biotic diversity.

To further enhance the projects, seven Detroit Public Schools conducted stewardship events. Participating Schools included Cass Technical High School, Ben Carson High School, Detroit Collegiate Prep School, Hutchinson at Howe Middle School and Chandler Park High and Middle Schools. FDR coordinated their shoreline planting events through the US Forest Service Urban Forestry Stewardship program. Litter collection and water quality monitoring events were coordinated through the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach™ program. The Belle Isle Nature Zoo and the Michigan Science Teacher Association provided support for all of the events. A final shoreline planting event was conducted in August of 2013 by Greening of Detroit.

In addition to a $2,000 plant purchase by the Detroit Recreation Department, volunteers working in the Belle Isle Greenhouses on behalf of the Belle Isle Conservancy provided native plant materials having genotypes local to Belle Isle. Donated materials included various oak species, red twigged and Drummond's dogwood, and spicebush. Purchased materials included native shrubs and perennials, including eastern ninebark, cardinal flower, coreopsis, blue lobelia, asters, goldenrod, swamp rose, steeplebush and various sedges.

The students' in-kind service contributed to the Detroit community's match obligation of $30,000. The Detroit Recreation Department (DRD) provided most of the match requirement by furnishing facilities for planning meetings over a two-year span and assisting with coordination of the construction. Initiating and conducting monitoring programs for amphibians and birds was also part of DRD's match contribution. Although this project was largely funded by the federal government, the Detroit community participated throughout the planning and construction process and will enjoy the project benefits as they continue to grow.

According to Keith Flournoy, former Belle Isle Park Manager, "We were able to create a project to enhance the existing habitat, provide structure and value for native species, improve the fishing experience for fishing enthusiasts on Belle Isle and within the Detroit River, and best of all, we were able to provide a long-lost connection to the lagoon for fish of the Great Lakes, and with the environmental education opportunities this project provides to our children from our school district and beyond, Belle Isle will continue to be a destination for residents of Detroit for generations to come."

The Great Lakes and coastal resources like the Detroit River are Michigan's most valuable natural resources and are fundamental to our identity and quality of life. The Great Lakes have extraordinary ecologic and economic value for Michigan providing:

  • jobs for more than 800,000 Michigan residents
  • a world-renowned commercial and sport fishery with an annual value of more than $4 billion
  • a $12.8 billion tourism industry
  • water resources for manufacturing industries, which produce 60 percent of our nation's steel and automobiles
  • harbors and marinas that support a $2 billion annual recreational boating industry

The Blue Heron Lagoon restoration project provides significant steps to further enhance this valuable resource.

Blue Heron Lagoon Restoration

Blue Heron Lagoon on Belle Isle

Blue Heron Lagoon Restoration

Blue Heron Lagoon on Belle Isle