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Indispensable island



Best Place to Go on Belle Isle
Belle Isle Zoo

First off, about all the “other than Belle Isle” entries on this year’s ballot. Every year when the Best Of Detroit think tank holds court to draw up the ballot, we look for categories to tweak, whack and replace. Why? Partly because we like surprises (and think you do too). So, we wondered whether some other contender had even a slight chance of pulling off an upset to dislodge Belle Isle as the Best Use for a Useless Sunday. And the Best Place to Meditate. And the Best Place to Find Nature in the City. And the Best Playground. And the Best Place to Play Hooky from Work. The Best Spot for Outdoor Sex. Even the Best-Kept Local Secret. (Pssst. If Belle Isle was the best-kept local secret, what was the worst?)That’s why we steered voters away from Belle Isle answers in all of those categories — and crafted a Best of Belle Isle question. And you told us: the Belle Isle Zoo. Some 13 acres with a three-quarter-mile elevated walkway giving a panoramic view, the zoo attracted 77,000 visitors last year, continuing a tradition that goes back (in one form or another) to 1911. In fact, the Detroit Zoo got started on the island 17 years before the beginning of the facility in Royal Oak. And while Royal Oak dwarfs the original zoo site, smallness is part of the Belle Isle Zoo’s charm. Says spokeswoman Rana Kozouz: “It’s small enough to see everything in one visit.” Still, you get face time with lions, tigers, wolves, bison, pandas, lemurs and … even spiders.

And we must note, that while we knocked Belle Isle out of the running in several categories, it immediately rose to the top in a couple of new ones: the Best Place for Outdoor Exercise and the Best Place to Bird-Watch.

You just can’t keep a good island down.

The Belle Isle Zoo opens this spring on May 1 and stays open until Oct. 31. Anyone interested in volunteering as a docent there or elsewhere in the Detroit Zoological Parks should call 248-541-5717.