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Looking Ahead

A Message from Belle Isle Conservancy's President & Chair

Twenty Twenty Two commemorated ten years of passion, commitment, and service by Belle Isle Conservancy, ten years of stewardship of the Belle Isle Aquarium, and 118 years since the Aquarium and (Anna Scripps Whitcomb) Conservatory first opened its doors to the public. On behalf of Belle Isle Conservancy's Board of Directors and staff team, thank you - community, supporters, visitors, volunteers, donors, event attendees, and partners for your continued support.


Belle Isle is a precious natural resource and cherished civic commons owned by the City of Detroit. As part of Detroit's financial restructuring, the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) began managing Belle Isle as a state park under a 30-year lease in February 2014. The MDNR is responsible for day-to-day operations, maintaining infrastructure, removing debris, and making park improvements. We applaud the contributions that the MDNR has made and continues to make.


Belle Isle Conservancy has proudly invested over $18 Million since 2012. Our footprint is visible in capital improvements, including Aquarium restoration and upgrades, high-quality environmental stewardship, education, community programs, volunteerism, maintaining free admission for over 1.2 million visitors to the Belle Isle Aquarium, and island-wide fiduciary support.


Belle Isle Conservancy's primary focus as custodian of the Aquarium has been to provide the highest quality of animal care and to cultivate awareness, empathy, and stewardship around natural habitats. The Aquarium calls attention to the connection of our home, right here in the heart of Detroit, to the world's waterways and the importance of species survival. But it doesn't stop there. Belle Isle Conservancy's role extends beyond the Aquarium to protect, preserve, restore, and enhance the natural environment, historic structures, and unique character of Belle Isle as a public park for the enjoyment of all – now and forever. As we enter our second decade, we remember our roots in volunteer organizations passionate about Belle Isle's success. We've fortified the road ahead with our newly adopted strategic plan, a strong board, and a highly talented staff team.


In addition to supporting Belle Isle Aquarium as a cultural institution and central hub for:​

  • Water Conservation

  • Water Education

  • Plastic Free Waters

  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums Accredited Animal Care,


You can expect Belle Isle Conservancy to continue:​

  • Advocating for Belle Isle and being a voice for park users

  • Facilitating valuable programs to enhance the experience of Belle Isle

  • Partnering with MDNR, the City of Detroit, and private organizations to improve Belle Isle

  • Fundraising to ensure Belle Isle's success.


Each of those commitments requires capacity, and great parks need broad-based support. Our position as non-profit stewardship leaders and partners render high-quality coalitions, partnerships, and direct services to make that happen. We could not have come this far without each of us playing our part, and we will do so much more together in the future. Your support is critical, now more than ever, to maintain momentum as we enter the next decade. As the Detroit Grand Prix returns to downtown in 2023, Belle Isle Conservancy must replace integral revenue previously earned through the Grand Prixmiere gala. We used these funds to keep the Belle Isle Aquarium open and free to the public, host stewardship programs, and deliver educational programming. Visit our website at to find out how you can be a part of Belle Isle's story:





Michele Hodges                                          Nancy J. Vella

President and CEO                                     Chair, Board of Directors

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Partner with MDNR, the City of Detroit and Private Organizations to Improve Belle Isle


Advocate for Belle Isle and be a Voice for Park Users


Create Valuable Programs to Enhance the Experience of Belle Isle


Build Organizational Capacity to Support Our Work


Since 2012, Belle Isle Conservancy has remained a diligent steward of the Belle Isle Aquarium. We've made essential repairs and upgrades to historic structural elements and critical life support, helping to brighten the treasured facility.

The Aquarium continues to serve as a hub for animal care, water conservation, and education through programming, school field trips, tours, professional development, general operating hours, partnerships, and more in service to the public. Visitorship's correlation to donations indicates perceived value by visitors. The numbers signal that we're on the right track, but there's more to be done.


As a legacy institution with roots in volunteer organizations, Belle Isle Conservancy is proud to maintain a strong corps of volunteers who support Belle Isle Aquarium, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Stewardship, Events, and the overall wellness of Belle Isle Park.

Community Wellness

To uplift the role of parks and green spaces in community vitality, Belle Isle Conservancy hosts and facilitates free wellness programs and will continue to explore ways to connect health and wellbeing to the use of the outdoors.

Belle Isle Koi Festival is a family-friendly celebration honoring the Koi Fish (Japanese Carp) in the Aquariums collection and its native Japanese culture. Koi Festival is hosted in early May to align with Children's Day, a holiday celebrated in Japan on May 5.

Belle Isle Conservancy supports the global effort to minimize single-use plastic pollution and marine litter at the regional level by emphasizing collaborative stewardship, education, clean-ups, and celebrations of the natural and societal significance of the Great Lakes Region.

Belle Isle Conservancy leads the collaboration of island partners to host this legacy event that has marked the holiday season on Belle Isle on the second Friday evening of December for over 30 years with extended facility hours, family-friendly activations, and community performances.


Belle Isle Aquarium STEM education programs serve learners and teachers through field trips, tours, professional development, and hands-on activities. 

Belle Isle Conservancy offers educational, recreational, and stewardship opportunities to encourage individual and corporate support and enhance the visitor experience.



The Sarah Earley Gemstone Award, named for Belle Isle Conservancy's Founder and Director Emeritus, recognizes exemplary service, commitment, and dedication to protecting, preserving, restoring, and enhancing Belle Isle.


From 2012-2022, Sarah Earley served as Chair of the Board of Directors for Belle Isle Conservancy, helping to weave together a network of supporters that graciously give their time, treasure, and talent to ensure the jewel that is Belle Isle shines as brightly as it can.


We thank Sarah for her leadership and dedication to Belle Isle Conservancy and Belle Isle Park and recognize the foundation that has been laid as we transition to New Board Leadership, Nancy J. Vella, and the continued journey of Belle Isle Conservancy.

Sarah Earley Gemstone Earley Gemstone Awardees:

  • (2022) Gena Conti: Owner, Gena Conti Millinery

  • (2021) Lisa Nowak, Community Advocate, and Volunteer - posthumously awarded

  • (2021) Sarah Earley


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