Belle Isle closed twice Sunday over large crowds, but not because of social-distancing


  • Steve Neavling

So many cars packed onto Belle Isle on Sunday that the state temporarily closed the island park twice to new traffic.

But it wasn’t because people were defying social-distancing measures, state officials say.

“We were overwhelmed with cars,” Ron Olson, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division, tells Metro Times. “There was a lack of parking.”

DNR officials temporarily closed Belle Isle to new traffic around 4:15 p.m. and again at about 5:30 p.m. because the park had reached capacity. Police blocked the entrance both times, and cars were backed up for blocks on Jefferson Avenue.

It was the first weekend with blue skies and 70-degree temperatures since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order on March 24 to slow the deadly spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed 4,049 lives as of Sunday morning. Under the order, people are still allowed to frequent parks, as long as they practice social-distancing measures.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, families and friends had gathered in small groups along the waterfront, many of them wearing masks and staying at least six feet away from others. One noticeable exception was a group of more than a dozen bikers who congregated near the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

Bikers began gathering at the James Scott Memorial Fountain. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Bikers began gathering at the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

“Social distancing wasn’t really a big issue,” Olson says.

The state closed two other parks this weekend because of large crowds – Island Lake Recreation Area in Livingston County and Grand Haven State Park along Lake Michigan.

The state seized control of Belle Isle from Detroit in February 2014 while the city was under emergency financial management.

Detroit’s neighborhood parks have remained open, but the city has removed rims from some basketball courts to discourage people from congregating.

  • Steve Neavling

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