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

Invasive Species Prevention and Control on Belle Isle – Detroit River

Funded by: EPA

Funding - Total Project Budget: $567,995

Federal: $471,097 Local Match: $96,916

Start/End Date: February 1, 2014 - January 31, 2016

Invasive Species Brochure - Belle Isle

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 provided oversight for development of aquatic invasive species (AIS) outreach/education exhibits and programming on the island focused on a suite of AIS threatening the Detroit River system and the Great Lakes.

Belle Isle, America's largest city-owned island park, hosts 10 million visitors annually. The setting provides an ideal opportunity to engage volunteer park stewards and increase citizen awareness of AIS present on the island and those threatening the Detroit River and the Great Lakes.

Stewardship of Belle Isle dates back to 1879 when Frederick Law Olmsted, "Father of Landscape Architecture" (designer of New York City's Central Park) and original "Placemaker," designed the island to provide work-weary citizens of the city with a place to relax and enjoy the out-of-doors. In addition to being the City of Detroit's most popular open space for recreation, the island's rich diversity of plants associated with its unique, 200-acre, wet mesic flatwoods forest and penetrating canals provide a haven for migratory and local birds and an important nursery habitat for larval fish species.

However, the health of the Belle Isle ecosystem and its role as a stopover and nursery for Detroit River fish and wildlife is threatened by AIS. Large growths of Phragmites and other AIS also have the potential to threaten Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other habitat restoration investments completed with federal, state, local and private funding support. Control of AIS, Phragmites in particular, has been held in check by the efforts of community organizations and a Phragmites management program that began in 2009.

This project aims to (i) control non-native invasive species present in the Great Lakes ecosystem, specifically on Belle Isle, and (ii) help prevent new introductions of invasive species into the Great Lakes ecosystem by implementing a multi-pronged outreach/education program. Specific strategies include the following:

  • Control work focuses on aquatic invasive species. A comprehensive "island wide" approach is targeting the following plants: Phragmites or common reed (Phragmites australis); reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea); purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria); and Japanese knotweed (Polyginum cuspidatum).
  • A two-year program involving multiple treatments is underway with monitoring throughout the project to record reduction in AIS coverage. The goal is to significantly reduce AIS on Belle Isle to a level that will be more easily managed beyond the grant period.
  • Educational displays are placed at two high-volume visitor destinations. The Aquarium hosts exhibits of live, "local", aquatic invasive animals, graphic displays of "watch" species, and information about eDNA and other early detection methods. The Nature Zoo showcases and interprets aquatic invasive plants in an outdoor setting. Both venues advertise special educational events featuring expert speakers and informational handouts.

The Friends of the Detroit River, in collaboration with Belle Isle Conservancy, Belle Isle Aquarium, Belle Isle Nature Zoo, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Wayne State University, Shedd Aquarium, Michigan Sea Grant, Greening of Detroit (Greening), Student Conservation Association (SCA), and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, are engaging local experts and the public to further develop control strategies and implement the work. To maximize local "green job" creation and education regarding the importance of this project, youth participating in the Greening and SCA summer employment programs are assisting qualified contractors to conduct invasive species control and progress monitoring work. Their training could lead to work in the field of environmental engineering.

Project Updates: The project is just beginning its second and final year. In 2014, invasive Species Control Work was partially completed. Removal Work by Youth Corps (Greening of Detroit and the Student Conservation Association) included:

  • < 1 acre amur honeysuckle
  • < 1 acre common buckthorn
  • < 1 acre glossy buckthorn
  • < 1 acre privet
  • < 1 acre multiflora rose
  • < 1 acre ash trees killed by the Emerald Ash borer, downed and on top of other invasive plants.

Work by the "Control Contractor" (Weed Eraser, Inc.)

  • 43 acres common reed grass (Phragmites)
  • 1 acre Japanese knotweed
  • 3 acres purple loosestrife
Blue Heron Lagoon Restoration

Belle Isle