Lake Okonoka habitat restoration project on Belle Isle nearing completion

Contact: Amanda Treadwell, 313-396-6872
Agency: Natural Resources

June 13, 2019

Lake Okonoka project map

A large-scale habitat restoration project at Belle Isle Park is nearing completion. The project, led by the Friends of the Detroit River and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will enhance fish habitat and recreational access and improve water quality in Lake Okonoka.

The habitat restoration project began in 2014 when the Blue Heron Lagoon was opened to the Detroit River to allow entry of Great Lakes water and fish. This improved the lagoon’s water quality, provided 40 acres of reclaimed fish spawning and nursery habitat and enhanced recreational fishing. This past spring, Lake Okonoka was connected to the Blue Heron Lagoon via the Lakeside Drive bridge. This summer, a 10-foot-square box culvert will be installed and will connect Lake Okonoka to the Detroit River on the Isle’s south shore.

Upon completion, water, fish and recreational paddlers will be able to move back and forth between the Detroit River, Blue Heron Lagoon and Lake Okonoka. The project is anticipated to be completed by October 2019.

“The rebirth of high-quality fish spawning and nursery habitat in the heart of urban Detroit is a tremendous achievement and certainly cause for celebration,” said Sam Lovall, project manager for the Friends of the Detroit River. “This project is an example of the efforts underway to delist Great Lakes Areas of Concern through habitat restoration. The project is a major step toward safeguarding Belle Isle’s natural resources for the enjoyment of current and future generations.”

The $6.45 million Lake Okonoka project is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Lake Okonoka project was envisioned by the Detroit River Public Advisory Council to mitigate Beneficial Use Impairments associated with the Detroit River Area of Concern. The Detroit River was named an Area of Concern on the Great Lakes under the federal Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987 due to pollution and urban and industrial development.

The Detroit River Public Advisory Council includes the Friends of the Detroit River; Department of Natural Resources; Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Michigan Sea Grant; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the City of Detroit and others. The Lake Okonoka project is one of 14 projects targeted for completion as part of the Detroit River Area of Concern delisting process. Of the 14 targeted projects, eight are completed. The projects are funded largely by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Due to high river levels and construction work on the new Lakeside Drive bridge, temporary road closures will take place. The goal is to reopen the main road as soon as possible. Currently, eastbound traffic along the perimeter road known as The Strand is closed past Ed Deeb Way (formerly Vista Drive).

Throughout the summer, park visitors should expect temporary closures on the perimeter road during the installation of the culvert. Please visit for updates as high water levels have had an impact.

For more information, contact Amanda Treadwell, DNR urban field planner, at 313-396-6872 or