The Belle Isle Conservancy is a new, nonprofit organization with a mission to restore, preserve, protect and enhance the natural environment, historic structures and unique character of Detroit’s scenic Belle Isle as a public park. Four long-time park advocacy agencies – Belle Isle Women’s Committee, Belle Isle Botanical Society, Friends of Belle Isle and the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium—merged in 2011 to form the Conservancy.
The formation of the Conservancy is the result of the strategic decision to merge the four long-time park support agencies into one organization. Together, they can be a stronger force with resources to offer more environmental, educational, cultural, and recreational experiences for all to enjoy. The four founding organizations have a long and successful history of implementing cultural programs and structural and environmental improvement projects on the island including: Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory repairs, renovation of Sunset Point, the annual Shiver on the River event, Plant Sale, Polish the Jewel Luncheon and other events, removal of invasive species and more.
The four organizations that are merging all support Belle Isle in many ways and felt that by becoming one organization their efforts would be more effective. However, there are many more organizations that also contribute to and care about Belle Isle, whose work focuses in particular areas or which operate particular facilities in the park. The Belle Isle Conservancy will have a committee called Island Affiliates, which will regularly convene all organizations that have an interest in Belle Isle to solicit their input and coordinate everyone’s efforts. In this way, groups such as the Friends of Detroit Rowing, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Botts Entertainment, First Tee, the Dossin Museum (Detroit Historical Society), the Nature Zoo (Detroit Zoological Society), the Detroit Yacht Club, Friends of the Detroit River, the Greening of Detroit and others will also be involved.
The first projects of the Conservancy will be to continue the work that is already funded and started by the four founding organizations. In 2012, this represents an investment of nearly $800,000. This includes restoration of the Horse Stables/Maintenance building roof, the Aquarium roof, improvements to the Lake Muskoday habitat, restoration of the Scott Fountain’s Pewabic tiles, improvements to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and more. To plan for future projects, the Conservancy will assess major structures and amenities to identify critical and immediate issues to be addressed, such as exploring options to reopen the Aquarium and Boat Club building for public use as year-round facilities. The Conservancy will also be recruiting members, donors and volunteers to support these preservation and restoration efforts and to engage more people in supporting Belle Isle.
The Conservancy will work closely with the City of Detroit’s Detroit Recreation Department, the General Services Department and the Belle Isle park manager to identify park improvement projects and cultural programs. The Conservancy’s board of directors includes five seats for city officials to ensure that the City has a voice in all decisions.
The Conservancy is a private 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, governed by a 19-member board of directors, with five members representing the City of Detroit.
The Belle Isle Conservancy has already received generous support from the Kresge Foundation and the McGregor Fund for the 2010 user survey and the careful process of planning the merger. The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has supported the Community Meeting on November 15 and other support for marketing has been provided by Charter One Bank. The four founding organizations have had many supporters for specific projects, which include grants from foundations and government agencies, individual gifts and bequests, annual membership dues, and many contributions from individuals. The Conservancy will continue to attract and leverage private support for Belle Isle improvements from all of these sources.
Members receive newsletters and invitations to Conservancy events and activities. Annual membership levels begin at $10 for seniors and students, $25 for individuals and go up to $10,000, with many levels in between. Every gift makes a difference!
The 1,300 members of the four founding organizations are now members of the Belle Isle Conservancy. Membership is open to anyone who wishes to pay annual dues to support the work of the Conservancy.
There are many opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer, from planting daffodils to giving tours of facilities and the grounds. The volunteer program will be expanded when the Conservancy is able to hire a full time Membership and Volunteer Coordinator. The Conservancy also has a number of committees to match specific expertise and interests with the assets and needs for improvement on Belle Isle. Committees include recreation, education, historic preservation and environment.
Belle Isle is a 2.5-mile-long, 982-acre island park in the Detroit River between the United States and Canada. It is connected to the mainland by the MacArthur Bridge and is crisscrossed by a series of canals and roads. Belle Isle features a large, natural wooded area that is home to a wide variety of small animals and birds. The park was designed in the 1880s by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. It features a number of historic public landmarks including the Belle Isle Casino, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservancy, and the Scott Fountain.