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New glass-and-steel sculpture, gateway to Iron Belle Trail will greet Belle Isle visitors this spring

Commissioned 'One World … Under Michigan Stars' sculpture will anchor the Ralph Wilson Gateway, the southern tip of Iron Belle Trail


Trail adventure, inspired public art and love of the outdoors are coming together beautifully at Belle Isle Park in Detroit.

Visitors to this Michigan state park now will be greeted by the "One World … Under Michigan Stars" glass-and-steel sculpture - a striking piece created by Detroit artists and brothers Erik and Israel Nordin, and an important piece of the soon-to-be-completed Ralph Wilson Gateway on the island park.

Once fully constructed, the Ralph Wilson Gateway will serve as the official southern trailhead for Michigan's Iron Belle Trail and the 6-mile Ralph Wilson Trail. The latter circles the park and serves as the southernmost point of the Iron Belle Trail.

"The Ralph Wilson Gateway will be the starting point for many journeys along the Iron Belle Trail that connects communities across the region and the state of Michigan," said J.J. Tighe, director of Parks and Trails for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. "This beautiful art sculpture will welcome visitors on Belle Isle and is an amazing addition to this special place to start any adventure on the island and beyond on the Iron Belle Trail."

The Iron Belle Trail - considered the longest state-designated trail in the nation - extends more than 2,000 miles between Belle Isle Park in Detroit and the far western tip of Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula. The trail - which offers two separate routes for bicycling and hiking - is more than 70% complete.

Spirit of the sculpture

view through sculpture to landscape

In 2019, Erik and Israel Nordin, co-owners of the Detroit Design Center, were commissioned to design an inspiring public art sculpture in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

"On a wintry day in November, much like the day the sculpture was installed, we hosted a public engagement meeting to hear ideas on how the public art sculpture could best represent what is unique to Michigan and Detroit," said Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "A theme quickly emerged - one that embodied the sky, water, skylines and the state's two peninsulas. It was all inspired by the route the Iron Belle Trail takes through cities, towns and woodlands between Detroit and the Upper Peninsula."

Today, the 24-foot-tall, 8-ton, glass-and-steel sculpture welcomes visitors, serves as a signature landmark on the island, and boldly symbolizes the southern gateway of this state-spanning trail.

"The design of the sculpture includes abstract skylines of both Detroit and Ironwood and features blue glass castings to represent our precious fresh water," said Erik Nordin. "We wanted the sky to act as the canvas for the art piece, constantly changing around it. Most importantly, the art piece stands to inspire the world to experience the Iron Belle Trail and celebrate all of the magnificent outdoor spaces that we share in our great state. Wherever you are on the trail, we are all together, connected under the stars."

Gateway timeline, milestones

Construction of the Ralph Wilson Gateway will be completed this spring, and the second phase of trail construction on the south side of the island will begin in late summer 2022. Planned components for the gateway and trailhead area include a parking lot, a park/trail kiosk, a small plaza area with seating, a connected pathway to the "One World … Under Michigan Stars" sculpture, a pergola and picnic tables.

"The sculpture is also symbolic of the continued efforts of our many cooperative partners that've worked so hard to promote trail-based experiences on the island," said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief. "In particular, we want to highlight the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, one of our key funding partners, for their remarkable help in advancing this Iron Belle Trail project."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is anticipated for early May and will mark the completion of the Ralph Wilson Gateway and the first phase of the Ralph Wilson Trail on Belle Isle.

"Park staff will maintain the trail through the winter, and park visitors are invited to enjoy the lovely views of the Detroit River and the new sculpture," said Treadwell. "A partnership like this, yielding such an inspiring artwork and welcoming area for Belle Isle and Iron Belle Trail visitors, is one more way Michigan continues to earn its reputation as the Trails State."

A combination of Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, Land and Water Conservation Fund and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation grants and private grants have funded the engineering and construction of the new Ralph Wilson Trail and Gateway. The sculpture was made possible by an unnamed donor.

For more information, contact Amanda Treadwell at 313-264-6359 or TreadwellA@Michigan.gov.


Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. Photos courtesy of artist Erik Nordin, Detroit Design Center.

Contact: Amanda Treadwell, 313-264-6359