Visitors enjoy the Belle Isle Aquarium at its reopening in August. Photo courtesy of Belle Isle Conservancy.

The mission of the Belle Isle Conservancy is to protect, preserve, restore and enhance the natural environment, historic structures, and unique character of Belle Isle as a public park for the enjoyment of all– now and forever. To carry out this mission, the Conservancy works alongside community stakeholders and partners at the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and the City of Detroit to support the park and its role in the community. 

The past 16 months have been no exception. In fact, supporting Belle Isle and its role in the community became more important than ever. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country and caused facility closures, the park demonstrated its value as a powerful civic space and emphasized the importance of access to the outdoors. During these difficult times, generations of community members enjoyed the park and the respite and fun it provided when they needed it most. 

Summer on Belle Isle was a breath of fresh air! The Belle Isle Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory were reopened, and guests were introduced to the new Oudolf Garden Detroit. 

  • On July 16th, Belle Isle Conservancy reopened its new and improved aquarium after 16 months of closure. Aquarium highlights include facility updates; an array of animals from around the world  (including air-breathing and local freshwater fish), and new additions like garden eels and the critically endangered axolotl.
  • On August 18th, the conjoined Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory celebrated 117 years of public service since opening in 1904.
  • On August 28th, what began as a love letter to world-renowned perennial garden master Piet Oudolf became Belle Isle’s newest Public Garden. The Oudolf Garden Detroit (OGD) sits between the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon and the International Peace Memorial. It offers accessible and engaging living art year-round. With 32,000 hardy perennials and grasses, including many native species, and visible changes every ten to fourteen days, Oudolf calls it “…a place where people can go and never be bored or disappointed. It is also a place that will teach you about plants because you will see plants you have never seen before or have never seen combined this way.” OGD is the first public garden to incorporate all three of Oudolf’s iconic planting styles: block, matrix, and group planting.

    Visit for interactive maps, plant lists, photos and drone coverage, and more.
  • Supporters gathered on the evening of September 14 for a whimsical event with an open bar, delicious food, and live entertainment. The Garden Party on Belle Isle is a tradition that has long benefitted the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. 
  • The annual “Polish the Jewel” Belle Isle Legacy Luncheon will be held on October 14.  Honorary Chairs Tom and Diane Schoenith will help the Conservancy raise money to support its mission and operating budget. For more information, click here

To learn more about Belle Isle Conservancy, click here

This article first appeared in the October 1, 2021, issue of Field Notes by the National Association for Olmsted Parks.