Belle Isle has 2 eventful days: Sea creatures, scary slides and more

14 Nov.,2022


Octopus water slide

Liliana Webb and Layla McMurtrie

Detroit Free Press

Belle Isle, island jewel of Detroit, is bursting with life as new attractions speckle the park. This summer, a giant slide returns, a public garden opens, and an eight-legged friend moves into the aquarium. 

The popular destination was taken over as a state park by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 2014 after Detroit entered bankruptcy. It is making a comeback after neglect while the city was suffering financial woes.

Today, the island is thriving with improvements and renovations. The 987 acres feature a conservatory, a museum and beautiful views of woodland and water. 

The park is open year-round from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. To drive onto the Belle Isle, a recreation passport is needed. 

From exquisite gardens  and the scary slide to viewing a slimy octopus, there's plenty to do on the island. 

Designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn in 1904, the aquarium is the oldest in the country, celebrating 118 years and holding the announcement as part of the aquarium's birthday week of events. 

Now, a 1-year-old male octopus from the Pacific Northwest has traveled to Belle Isle Aquarium. 

The aquarium unveiled the octopus tank to the public on Thursday and is the only aquarium in the state to have one, according to the Belle Isle Conservancy. 

But the space's newly added resident has yet to be named. Starting this Sunday, anyone with ideas on what to name the octopus can submit names to the aquarium's Instagram page.

People can visit the octopus free of charge at the Belle Isle Aquarium, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. 

The day after the arrival of the yet-to-be-named octopus, a beloved landmark has reopened. The giant ride was reopened on Friday after closing due to COVID-19. Children excitedly flooded the gates, until seeing others ride down.

Slide riders  flew into the air and slammed back down onto the metal. The culprit: The slide was freshly waxed, according to staff members. 

Children limped after getting off at the bottom. A crowd gathered to watch the mayhem. 

Few riders were able to nail down the proper technique to keep from going airborne.

The best method is to lean forward with your arms firmly planted next to you on the bag, according to Department of Natural Resources Ranger Todd Schultz. This keeps your body sturdy in place and prevents you from going up into the air. 

One rider crossed her arms across her chest and leaned forward, successfully conquering the massive ride.

However, later that day, a Facebook post stated the ride would be closed for the rest of the day due to speed. 

Despite how the day ended up, children still got their laughs in for the weekend, as a historical site of fun was reopened that morning.

Besides sea creatures and massive metal slides, Belle Isle is also home to a wonderous array  of nature. Over 35,000 locally grown perennials, creating 1,500 plant groupings and 15 plant beds, were imagined into a new community garden on Belle Isle, designed by world-renowned garden master Piet Oudolf. 

In the works since 2014 and opened in 2021, Oudolf, 77, finally got to see the finished garden for the first time on Thursday, prevented from doing so previously due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

"It looks even better in person. When I said I was coming to Detroit to make a garden, I did not know that I would have to watch it be installed via FaceTime," Oudolf said. “While I’m thankful I could check in on it virtually, there is nothing like being back in Detroit to watch the pollinators dance through the flowers and see what I had imagined and designed come to life."

Following the Great Lakes reaching historically high water levels and causing floods in 2019, the garden had to be almost completely redesigned, as the site was one-third underwater. Now, the garden is raised and built into a beautiful landscape leading down toward the Detroit River. 

"The garden was built up as a landscape, so when you walk through it, you see your eyes are not stuck in one bed, you always see the overall picture," Oudolf said. "You feel something when you walk in and I think that is very important.

"A garden shows community. It serves not a whole city, but it serves at least many people that are looking for something like that and they will feel connected." 

Thursday and Friday led to a whirlwind of events on the island. The exciting two days reminded us of the essence of the park: There is always an adventure waiting to happen. 

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