Welcome to Belle Isle Concern

Grand Prix Set-up Begins

Monday, April 22 is the 49th annual Earth Day. More than one billion people in 192 countries will take part in the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. The theme this year is “Protect Our Species.”

On Belle Isle, there will be a “Green Day” of children’s activities at the Nature Center on Saturday, April 20. It’s not clear why the organizers aren’t calling them “Earth Day” activities. Perhaps it’s because what happens on Belle Isle this year on Earth Day isn’t a citizen action to protect our species. Quite the contrary—it’s the day when the annual set-up for the Grand Prix begins. Contractors will start their weeks-long festival of setting up construction barriers, concrete blocks, fencing, corporate advertisements on overpasses, and other impediments that despoil and intrude on the most accessible part of Belle Isle. 

Spring on Belle Isle is all about the takeover of one of the most beautiful public spaces in any American city by a billionaire so he can have a weekend of roaring super-fast race cars. The only species being protected on Earth Day on Belle Isle is the species of corporate stakeholders. In the most visited of all Michigan state parks, the interests of Roger Penske will visibly be put ahead of the desires of bicyclists, pedestrians, picnickers, birthday and wedding partiers, and weary Detroiters who just want to relax and look at the river.

Last year, the Michigan DNR refused a request by citizens and environmental organizations to do an environmental impact study of the Belle Isle Grand Prix and granted Penske a new three-year race contract against the wishes of a strong majority of park users. We don’t know what damage the race does to the habitat or the extent of its interference with migratory birds who use Belle Isle as a stopover. But you can see for yourself how it impedes access and mars the landscape.

Now the organizers of the Detroit Auto Show, which moves to June in 2020, are hoping to piggyback on the Grand Prix and add more weeks to the corporate occupation of the island. We can’t continue to allow this perversion of park priorities. It’s time to move the Grand Prix off the island to a more suitable location and reclaim Belle Isle for the people of Detroit.

Celebrate Earth Day by joining our efforts in April and May. Come to the picnic on Belle Isle on May 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Shelter 10 along Central Ave. just past the Giant Slide. Join our protest on Jefferson Ave. at the entrance to the bridge to Belle Isle on May 25 from noon to 2 p.m.

Park Film Screening - A Success
Our first event in the series “Artists Speak out on Belle Isle” was a rousing success. Detroit visual artist Nicole Macdonald premiered her new documentary short film, “A Park for Detroit," at the Annex Gallery in Highland Park. A Q & A followed the movie, Macdonald said the film, which 
focuses on the plants, birds, and other animals that inhabit the abandoned zoo on Belle Isle, is an artistic argument for allowing at least some 
parts of Detroit to return to nature.  Members of a community panel then discussed the issues around the privatization of the park for the Grand Prix with an audience of over 100.  


Our citizens group Belle Isle Concern has charged the DNR with possible violations of the public trust because of lack of transparency, environmental irresponsibility, disregard of park users, and use of disputed “economic impact” studies in its approval of new Grand Prix contract in Belle Isle Park.
We oppose the Grand Prix on Belle Isle and sent a request earlier this week to DNR parks chief Ron Olson asking for documents that explain his conclusions that the race has no impact on animals or the park environment, does not violate the park’s strategic management plan, and should be allowed because it purportedly benefits the area economy (as measured only by bogus sports industry studies).

Olson’s assessment of the contract proposal doesn’t pass the smell test. It doesn’t include any assessment of the value of Belle Isle as a park. It reads more like a Roger Penske public relations brochure than a responsible review by a public body.

Other cities have studied the great economic value of urban parks for city dwellers rather than ignoring those values. This clearly contradicts the DNR mission of defending natural resources. The starting assumption should be protecting Belle Isle as a public park, not justifying its misuse as a private racetrack.

We've pointed out that the DNR has hidden results from previous surveys and public listening sessions that have shown a substantial majority of park users oppose the race being held on the island. Olson has also refused requests from environmental and citizens groups to conduct an independent third-party environmental impact study yet has pronounced without any supporting documentation that the event has no impact on animals—while not even considering any other environmental impacts such as storm-water runoff or damage to the island’s historic structure.

In this sham of an approval process the major stakeholders in Belle Isle—the public—have had no seat at the table. Olson and the DNR follow the dictates of Roger Penske and don’t really listen to the public. The voices supporting the Grand Prix have mostly been race volunteers recruited to come to recent meetings and others who have financial or personal stakes in the event.

Belle Isle Concern’s members will continue raising concerns about the gross misuse of Detroit’s most precious public space just for the purpose of a relatively small sporting event conducted by a billionaire. 

We are here for the duration.

Every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year we will dedicate ourselves to getting the Grand Prix OFF the Public Park that is Belle Isle.

And we will win.

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What's wrong with holding the Grand Prix on Belle Isle Park?

Belle Isle is a public park and should provide free and unrestricted access to people every day of the year.

The Grand Prix violates the mission and stewardship criteria of the DNR (and Belle Isle Conservancy).

The Grand Prix confiscates the most popular, accessible part of the island for most of the spring. Concrete barriers block the river view, huge corporate ads line the roads, massive party tents block roads.

Belle Isle is a stopover for migratory birds and habitat for lots of flora and fauna, but the DNR has refused to do an environmental impact study of the race.

Access to the Scott Fountain is blocked, picnic areas cordoned off--so weddings and family reunions can't be held. Revenue is lost.

An overwhelming majority of park users have told the DNR in surveys and public meetings that the #1 priority for the island is removing the Grand Prix.

Auto racing is an environmentally insensitive activity which is totally inappropriate for a public park.

Auto racing is inappropriate for a venue so close to densely populated areas because of the disturbance it creates and the disruption it causes to local residents and businesses.

In a world increasingly conscious of the environment, the holding of an auto race in an important public park will be seen internationally not as increasing Detroit's prestige but as an appalling act of destruction.


Hey,Grand Prix!
Quit Disrespecting the People's  Park!


Keep updated by visiting this website or the Facebook group Belle Isle: Park or Racetrack? The DNR has promised a public hearing and review process for any new contract, expected soon.

Make your voice heard - "No New Grand Prix Contract." Contact: Dan Eichinger, Director, DNR at 517.284.6367, email DNR-Director@michigan.govRon Olson, Parks & Recreation Chief at 517.284.7275, email olsonr@michigan.gov; 

Residents of the City of Detroit, contact Brenda Jones, President, Detroit City Council, 313.224.1245, bjones_mb@detroitmi.gov and/or your other City Council members. The city still owns the park. It is the landlord leasing the park to the DNR.  Click on the "Take Action to Protect Belle Isle Park" at the bottom of the "Navigation  column on the left side of this page for email and snail mail addresses.