Yosemite city? The National Parks Service showcases its urban agenda in Detroit


Ask anyone in Detroit where they might find the National Park Service (NPS) in Michigan and they’ll likely think of Sleeping Bear Dunes or Isle Royale – not a city park like Detroit’s Belle Isle.

However, the NPS is located on Belle Isle and has had a presence in Detroit through historical preservation for many years. Lastly, the NPS is helping to restore Rouge Park and create a network of greenways in the city.

In May, Jon Jarvis, NPS director in Detroit, announced a $ 325,000 NPS investment in Belle Isle to restore sports fields and make further improvements to coincide with the agency’s 100th anniversary.

When it comes to the scenic splendor of America’s iconic natural landscapes, don’t think of park rangers working on a path along the Rouge River or restoring a football field on Belle Isle. All of this is part of the NPS’s “urban agenda,” an effort to raise awareness and support for the preservation of natural and human historical places – Detroit is one of them.

The NPS “needs to be more relevant to all Americans,” Jarvis said at the Belle Isle press conference. The agency needs to enter into more partnerships and improve its image among people in urban areas like Detroit, where there is no national park for hundreds of miles.

There is plenty of green space here, however, from the classic Belle Isle landscape architecture to the 1,000-acre Rouge Park to hundreds of smaller neighborhood parks, many of which are no longer maintained. There’s a lot of history, too – one of the low profile aspects of the NPS’s mission. Identifying national landmarks and managing historical duty credits are among the ways NPS is involved in historical preservation.

Barbara Nelson-Jameson, who works in the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, is helping community groups revitalize Rouge Park.

Growing up on the east side of Detroit, nature was Balduck Park for her. Your awareness of the Detroit River went under the Detroit-Windsor Tunnels and Belle Isle as a picnic spot. “There’s a lot more emphasis on outdoor education these days,” she says.

With regard to national parks, the perspective has changed slightly.

“[We’ve been] Extending a conversation that often focuses on what is best for the parks’ future to one that is broadened to include what is best for a greater number of social and environmental goals and ways that parks, in collaboration with other institutions, are best suited , best suited to achieving these goals, ”says Rolf Diamant, a retired NPS architect who writes for the George Wright Forum.

According to the 2009 report by the NPS Second Century Commission, national parks are “community builders who create an enlightened society committed to a sustainable world.”

The NPS Collaborative for Innovative Leadership has established an “urban agenda” that includes building formal working relationships with partner organizations and non-traditional partners such as health care providers. The NPS has launched a “Healthy Parks / Healthy People” campaign. According to the collaboration, NPS should “aim to understand the community’s health and transportation needs and find ways in which they can help meet those needs, including physical access, public transport needs, alternative transportation, education – or marketing programs … and public relations (urban gardens, natural gardens) playgrounds). “

“Park design is about improving access to the neighborhood and making sure the park is safe,” says Nelson-Jameson. One of the projects of the cooperation is the development of 1.6 km long “health” loops in the neighborhood in Rouge Park.

Like the Ecology Center in Wayne County’s Fresh Prescription program, in which health care providers prescribe fruits and vegetables for chronically ill low-income people, NPS is promoting a park prescription that encourages health care providers to prescribe walks through parks to improve cardiovascular health. Promote circulatory health.

According to Nelson-Jameson, urban national parks make up a third of the national park system and 40 percent of its patrons. An “affinity caucus” from NPS employees who work in urban national parks initiated a process to “allow urban parks and programs to come into power to become a bigger, more relevant part of urban life in America “. This has led to “Communities of Practice” where NPS focuses on urban innovation, economic regeneration, connecting youth and nature, and establishing “portals of diversity”.

The urban agenda has also spawned internships and scholarships that provide professionals with opportunities to define conservation work in urban areas. Jon Jarvis announced in his remarks on Belle Isle that Detroit would accept one of ten NPS scholarships from July. David Goldstein, the NPS Fellow, will have a permanent role in creating links between NPS programs and local initiatives.

Juliana Fulton, a city planner, is working on an internship supported by a three-way partnership between the NPS, Conservation Legacy / Americorps, and the City of Detroit. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Fulton says she wanted to work here because “it’s where exciting things happen … challenges no other city has … doing things no other city does”. She says some of her colleagues are looking for jobs in Detroit, where “a lot of change” is going on.

Fulton, who bought a home in Detroit’s North End neighborhood, is working with the City of Detroit Recreation Department to finalize the park master plan. She has started working on a nature trail in Rouge Park. Parks are about appreciating nature and connecting people with one another.

In Rouge Park, the NPS is building a kayak launch and helping to develop a paddle guide for the Rouge River as part of its collaboration with the Southeast Michigan Water Trail.

This summer, NPS will host two national events in the area: the first National Water Trail Forum in Ann Arbor June 24-26 and a Wilderness Inquiry Program on the Detroit River August 7-9.

Tom Goss, a Detroit Towers resident who regularly drives to Belle Isle, serves on the National Park Foundation’s board of directors. He adds a Detroit perspective to the urban agenda, with social and cultural inclusion a major focus when introducing new people to national parks. “If we look at this group, the majority are 65 and over,” notes Goss. “When we look at our community, there are children who have never seen our (national) parks … We have the opportunity to reach young people so that they can start in parks, so that they can move on .. … so they might want to visit Yellowstone and see the websites that we as taxpayers pay for. “

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer.

All photos by Marvin Shaouni.


Dusty Kennedy