Blog: John Hartig

Great rivers can, and literally have, caught fire. This week Dr. John Hartig, refuge manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and author of Burning Rivers, explains this phenomenon and writes about those unwilling to let the heritage and wildlife of the Detroit and Rouge River ecosystems go out in flames.

Post 5: Detroit RiverWalk – Sharing the Dream

It is a bright sunny spring day as I walk along the Detroit RiverWalk.  Chilly winds off the river remind me how cold the water still is at this time of year.  These cold winds, however, do not detract from the spectacular view of the 980-acre Belle Isle – the crown jewel of Detroit's park system.  People walk by me smiling as they also enjoy the view of Canada, waterfowl on the river, and freighters going by.  

There clearly is something special about water.  People all over the world flock to it for rest and relaxation, and for recreation and renewal.  Water just seems to calm the soul.  Water can also redefine a place, can help join neighborhoods and communities together, and can reconnect us to the natural world.  

Most people will agree that open and accessible waterfronts are important gathering places where people can meet one another.  Waterfront gathering places are an even more important factor to the next generation.  That is precisely why the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is building the Detroit RiverWalk.  The Detroit RiverWalk is a dream come true for this generation and a gift to future generations.

It started with bringing a group of riverfront stakeholders together nearly a decade ago to develop the following vision for a transformed Detroit riverfront:

The historic Detroit River is a gathering place for Detroiters, their families, friends and visitors - a place where people want to live, work and play.  The riverfront illustrates our ability to provide stewardship of our environment, confirms our ability to connect and care for our people and channels sustainable economic development for the benefit of all. Our riverfront is transformed and we are recognized as an outstanding global community.

This was not the first attempt to create public spaces along the Detroit River, but this time it had seed money from The Kresge Foundation, General Motors, and other entities that could leverage federal and state monies, and it had the strong support of the people to make it happen.  And now the dream is coming true!  

Over $110 million has been raised for the first 3.5-mile phase of the Detroit RiverWalk called the East Riverfront.  Three miles of the East Riverfront are complete, with another half mile to come.  The West Riverfront is in the final planning stages and will add another two miles to the walkway.  If you have not been down to the Detroit RiverWalk, you must come and see and experience it.

The Detroit RiverWalk now offers year-round programming, with cross country skiing, ice fishing in the harbors of Milliken State Park and Gabriel Richard Park, and the Detroit Polar Plunge in winter.  Examples of what is coming in spring, summer, and fall include: a March of Dimes March for Babies walk on May 1; the Downtown Hoedown on May 13-15; Eastern Market Flower Day on May 17; Movement 2011 on May 28-30; Motor City Pride on June 4-5; a Fun-n-Fish Day on June 11; a River Days 5K and Fun Run on June 25; the signature Detroit River Days Festival on June 24-26 that features maritime events, music, carnival rides; "The Taste of Detroit" food court, and more; Rockin' on the River concerts on July 8, 15, and 22; and the Detroit Free Press Marathon on October 16.  

If that is not enough to get you excited, there are opportunities to join a Riverwalkers Club, a Canine Club, and a Yoga on the Riverfront Club, or you can just splash in the fountains of GM Plaza, take a ride on the carousel at Rivard Plaza, or ride a bike along the Detroit RiverWalk and up the Dequindre Cut to Eastern Market. As the warm weather is coming and you make your plans for doing things with your family and friends, remember the Detroit RiverWalk and come and experience the dream come true.

Detroit RiverWalk photo courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy