While growing up, EE Berger would go with her family to Belle Isle to visit the aquarium, conservatory, and most importantly in a child’s eyes, the free-roaming reindeer. Between those visits and stories from her dad and grandparents, Belle Isle has always stood on a magical, special pedestal — making photographing the island even more wonderful. Spending a couple of weeks exploring either by herself or with others, she learned the ins and outs of the park that she either forgot about or never knew existed. And although she hasn’t found any leftover free-roaming reindeer, her favorite part of Belle Isle is the fact that she herself can still roam freely. She’s looking forward to biking, grilling, swimming, and enjoying one of the biggest gems that this city has to offer.
Environmental journalist Kurt Kuban has written dozens of stories about the Rouge River, which was not too long ago considered one of the most polluted waterways in the nation. The health of the watershed has improved dramatically since it notoriously caught fire in 1969 and cleanup efforts began in the 1980s. Kuban has had a pretty good view of the revival, having coordinated the annual Rouge Rescue cleanup in his hometown of Wayne since 2001. “While federal, state, and local governments have spent millions of dollars to clean up the Rouge, it has been the thousands of volunteers who have really been the backbone of restoration efforts,” he says. He is the editor of the Community Publishing group and co-founder/editor of streamsidejournal.com.
Reporting the Belle Isle story “put a smile on my face every day,” says Joe Lapointe, who grew up east of Belle Isle in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. “About 1.8 miles as the crow flies — or fish swims,” he says. As a boy, his family cooked on a grill and swam at the beach Sundays after Mass. In his early 30s, he finished a Free Press Marathon there. When he and his wife, Rose, lost a child to a stillbirth, the memorial service was on Belle Isle, near the bridge. “We took flowers people sent us and floated them on the river,” he says. “It’s my strongest Belle Isle memory.” He recently moved back to Michigan after 25 years of writing and teaching in New York. Lapointe plans to take his 1-year-old granddaughter for her first Belle Isle visit this spring.
Photojournalist and conservation advocate P.A. Rech felt right at home waist deep (and at times, above) while shooting the story on the Rouge River. Urban environmental concerns are a theme in his career, which began at National Geographic. He’s been on the front lines of chronic environmental justice issues as a news photographer and then as an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation and Friends of the Chicago River. When he’s not floating his hat, Rech photographs editorial and commercial assignments (palanimages.com). “These urban rivers and the folks they attract are truly a tenacious bunch, deserving all we can do on their behalf,” Rech says. “Give these volunteers an inch and they’ll do all they can to take back a mile.”