Belle Island has always been Detroit’s favorite place to show off.
Cross the Macarthur Bridge into the park, and you enter a parallel world. Back when the city was rich in heavy industry, Belle Isle already boasted the standard urban attractions — zoos, museums, boating. But space and cash were so plentiful that people started making up monuments: marble lighthouses! flower clocks! giant belltowers! The park even helped out with the war effort — in the 1940s, soldiers nicknamed the park “Bella Jima” and used it as a staging ground for mock island invasions.
Of course, no city could keep that pace up for long. Today, some of the buildings have fallen into genteel disrepair, but the classics — the beach, nature center, and flower conservatory — are still open and free to the public. Plus, the park has been through hard times before — legend has it that during the Depression, the aquarium sold its prize sea turtle to the city fishmarket. As long as the grass is green and the water’s clean (thanks to the river, it’s the purest in the Great Lakes), Belle Isle will always be Detroit’s greatest escape.
See you at the swim spot!