City of Ecorse embarks on effort to reclaim waterfront assets for recreation potential

Kelly Rose moved to Ecorse from the Pittsburgh area about three years ago with her husband for a teaching job. Some of her friends questioned her decision to move to the Detroit area. But as soon as Rose found her home on Jefferson with a spectacular view of the Detroit River, she was hooked.


Kelly Rose. Photo courtesy Kelly Rose.Rose began exploring her surroundings and soon found a little-known natural wildlife corridor called Ecorse Creek. She was amazed by the wildlife, beauty, and peacefulness she found there. It seemed to Rose that the region, which has suffered so much from a post-industrial decline over the past several decades, had some significant assets right under its nose. She and fellow kayaker Paul Gloor of the Grosse Isle Land and Nature Conservancy paddled the area to do some initial reconnaissance. What they found was a lot of possibilities.


“We really have some gems around here,” she said. “But it didn’t seem like anybody really recognized the recreation potential.”


So Rose wrote to Ecorse Mayor Lamar Tidwell, who soon put her in touch with City Administrator Richard Marsh. Through Marsh, Rose connected with other like-minded folks in the area, including Nancy White, director of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Jody DeMeyere, who manages visitor services for the Refuge, Maureen Tobin of the City of Lincoln Park, and Anita Twardesky, who works with Riverside Kayak Connection.


They formed a group to take a look at the potential for Ecorse Creek to function as a wildlife and recreation corridor through Ecorse and Lincoln Park. The area also connects with the statewide Iron Belle Trail plan, which connects the downriver area with the Upper Peninsula. Rose and DeMeyere again kayaked and visited locations along the shoreline to document conditions and identify opportunities for boat launches, staging areas, and concessions.


The group then secured a small grant to support community cleanups along the Ecorse Creek corridor and the Detroit Riverfront during the summer and fall of 2019. These events attracted substantial community turnout, including the mayors of both Ecorse and Lincoln Park, as well as representatives from the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The success of that effort inspired the group to do more to raise awareness and secure resources for the future of the area as a recreation hub.


“Now, we're trying to write bigger and better grants to do bigger and better things,” says Rose.

Marsh worked with city planner McKenna Associates to draw up a concept plan for Ecorse Creek, and the city is now working to position the creek as an asset in its planning efforts. He sees the potential for the Ecorse Creek to unite up to 15 upstream communities in creating a greenway along the natural corridor. The program also fits in with the vision of the Downriver Linked Greenways initiative.

Ecorse Creek. Photo by Quentin Rodriguez


“People love water,” says Marsh. “Ecorse is blessed to have water. Many don't. People want to live and work where they have a quality of life. And water has a way of attracting economic development. Ecorse Creek has the potential to be at the center of the region’s blue economy.”


Ecorse Creek figures prominently in plans for the future development of the Mill Street property, a 58-acre parcel owned by the city that formerly housed a steel mill. That site is now the focus of a city-led redevelopment campaign targeting light industrial and mixed uses. The city and McKenna Associates are now in the process of developing a concept plan for the site that illustrates how publicly accessible open space along Ecorse Creek can be incorporated into the eventual development of the site. Marsh envisions a public-private partnership featuring city-managed open space as part of a future development agreement. He likens the plan to the open space connecting the GM Headquarters in the Renaissance Center to the Detroit River in downtown Detroit.

Ecorse Creek. Photo by Quentin Rodriguez


“General Motors sees that riverfront open space as an asset for the employees and for the community,” says Marsh. “That’s something we can replicate here in Ecorse with the future development of the Mill Street parcel.”


Rose envisions a linked network of foot trails, water trails, and parks in Ecorse and surrounding communities that connect to centers of commerce and neighborhoods. She says there’s a lot of work ahead to realize the potential of the area. The first order of business is to create solid infrastructure, including safe sites for launching canoes and kayaks.


“There could be a whole water trail,” says Rose. “I would like to see it made more accessible to people so that they could hop in kayaks, canoes, even stand up paddleboards, and either go around Mud Island and explore the wildlife there or just a little bit down the Detroit River and into Ecorse Creek where it is nice and calm.“

Ecorse Creek. Photo by Quentin Rodriguez


Rose sees a bright future in Ecorse and the Detroit area. It reminds her of where she came from.


“I see wonderful things happening in the Detroit area that happened in Pittsburgh maybe 20 years ago when the city recovered from the demise of the steel industry,” she says. “And my hope is that, as a resident of Ecorse, I will see the recreation potential in the area made real. And surrounding communities will see Ecorse as a recreation destination and not just a place to drive through on your way to somewhere else.”

Interested parties should inquire with Richard Marsh at 313-386-2520.

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