Meet the Group Working to ‘Keep Belle Isle Beautiful’

How the Belle Isle Conservancy is preserving the island’s natural beauty
Belle Isle Conservancy
Photograph Courtesy of Belle Isle Conservancy

Belle Isle has long been an escape for metro Detroiters looking to enjoy the great outdoors. But decades of recreation and visitors have made a serious environmental impact. In response, the Belle Isle Conservancy is making an effort to keep the natural ecology of Belle Isle healthy and litter-free with the initiative, “Keep Belle Isle Beautiful.”

Headed by Summer Whitner, Chief Operating Officer at Belle Isle Conservancy, and Genevieve Nowak, Director of Volunteer Services, the Keep Belle Isle Beautiful campaign has been making strides to reduce the amount of waste negatively impacting the park and waterways. Whitner and Nowak have visited other states and studied their anti-littering campaigns. They also found that between 10-20 million tons of plastic debris end up harming the environment and natural ecosystem of Belle Isle.

The duo is hoping to raise awareness of littering and environmental issues. The goal is to help shift the message to become more mindful of how to not be wasteful or unintentionally destructive towards the natural world.

“We figured out that in staff cost alone, [Belle Isle] spends half a million a year picking up garbage. Not necessarily just picking litter off the ground, but also taking the garbage from the trash cans to the dumpsters,” says Nowak, director of volunteer services for Belle Isle Park.

“[The amount] does not include any contracts that remove garbage from the park.”

Some of the biggest culprits include plastic water bottles (the state’s No. 1 littered item on beaches and parks) and cigarette butts. Fishing-related items, such as fishing lines and hooks, are also easily forgotten and have caused injury to aquatic life and domestic pets.

The Keep Belle Isle Beautiful campaign has been incorporated into the island’s volunteer programs. No experience is required to help out with cleaning the park and there are many ways individuals and groups can help lend a hand. In a partnership with Riverside Kayaks, the recreational vendor of the island, kayaks are available to help clean up the canals to remove its litter.

This year, Keep Belle Isle Beautiful is hosting a public launch during the park’s annual Spring Cleanup. On April 21, the annual Earth Day weekend event will provide an opportunity for volunteers to join the effort in keeping the isle clean, alongside a hot dog lunch and community celebration at the Athletic Complex.

For more information on how to sign up for volunteer efforts or the Spring Cleanup event, go to

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