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DNR planning more green space equity opportunities along Michigan waterways

Today’s MI Environment story by Alexis Hermiz and John Pepin of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is from the State of the Great Lakes report.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has an engagement priority to expand the diversity of its userbase and broaden diversity in its workforce. Michigan has a diverse population, representing many racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and the work the department does to uphold the public trust should be done through an equity lens. The DNR understands that everyone does not have the same level of resources and access to a healthy environment and quality recreation. Knowing this, the DNR is committed to engaging in intentional projects that promote equity and environmental justice. The DNR’s land use strategy highlights the need to engage with partners in urban areas in southeast Michigan to understand their connections, interests and understanding of public land access. The department also noted the importance of increasing the diversity in stakeholders offering feedback and public comment.

Rendering of aerial view of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park in Detroit, Mich. (Rendering courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy)

Rendering of aerial view of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park in Detroit, Mich. (Rendering courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.)


With the upcoming revision of its Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, the DNR is working to include a diversity of stakeholders, particularly more communities of color and residents of urban areas, to provide feedback on recreation in Michigan. The DNR is engaged in several efforts aimed at providing more opportunities for green space, equity, recreation and environmental enhancement along Michigan waterways. One project will be the first of its kind in Michigan, creating a wetland in support of a multi-state and Canadian effort to combat algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Michigan’s efforts will align with Ohio’s successful H2Ohio project, which is a comprehensive water quality initiative working to strategically address serious water issues that have been building in that state for decades, including harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie caused by runoff from farm fertilizer.

The Michigan project site has yet to be determined, but it will be located within the Upper Maumee River watershed and the River Raisin watershed in southeast Michigan. This project aligns funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the DNR to acquire land to be developed into a functional wetland complex, which would filter phosphorus and other contaminants prior to reaching Lake Erie. Once acquired by the DNR, the property would be a state game area providing habitat, resource and recreational opportunities, in addition to the goals of the phosphorus and containment filtering that would take place onsite. It will also help meet equity goals of the DNR in providing more access to recreation opportunities in the southeast part of the state. Meanwhile, the DNR continues concerted efforts to contribute to the ongoing larger multi-stakeholder efforts to redevelop and revitalize the Detroit River waterfront. To date, the DNR has contributed close to $60 million to improvements, as well as operating its Outdoor Adventure Center, Milliken State Park and Belle Isle.

Construction will start in the fall on the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park* on land owned by the DNR, leased to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and funded primarily by the Wilson Foundation. When completed, the park should be on the same scale (activities, programmed spaces, uniqueness) as Millennium Park in Chicago or Central Park in New York City. These projects help beautify the riverfront area, add important greenspace and provide increased and enhanced opportunities for fishing, biking, hiking, wildlife viewing and more.

The Michigan DNR has a diversity, equity, inclusion and justice officer on staff to help provide guidance to the department on projects that promote the department’s equity and inclusion work. The officer’s role is to help the DNR operationalize equity in everything it does and ensure it is working to provide access to quality and safe recreation for all visitors.

* The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority received a $1,000,000 Brownfield Redevelopment Grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park project. The grant is being used for response activities, including contaminated soil management, to address environmental conditions associated with the previous industrial uses of the West Riverfront Park located in the City of Detroit. The development will result in a 22-acre world class park featuring a multi-acre playground, a large open space for performances and events, a sports house with facilities for basketball and other activities, a water garden fed by the Detroit River, and a park house with restrooms, offices, and food/beverage operations.