For the first time in its history, the city's island park is being taken
seriously as an ecological habitat.
This is significant,
because nearly half of Belle Isle's almost a thousand acres is
old-growth wet, or "mesic," forest. It is an important wildlife habitat,
especially serving as a feeding ground for migratory birds.
"Mebby" Pearson is a member of the Friends of Belle Isle's
stewardship committee, and the group is leading the charge to help give
the island's nature areas a boost. "We are a preservation group, and
ecological preservation is very important to us," she says.
the island of invasive species is top priority for the fledgling
effort, which kicked off in January of this year. Its foundation of
strong partners and bevy of committed volunteers are already making an
impact on improving the island's health.Profile of a
Pearson is a certified conservation steward via
the Michigan State University Extension Center, a master gardener and
composter, and an ecological gardener. She's worked in St. Clair,
Macomb, Livingston and Oakland counties on issues of water quality
through the Michigan Groundwater Stewardship program and describes
herself as having a general "interest in ecological issues" and says, "I
love being outside."
Pearson and her family moved to the
metropolitan area almost two decades ago from St. Louis when her husband
was transferred to Wayne State University. She worked as a court
reporter for many years, but stepped back to raise her kids, all the
while volunteering and retraining herself.
One of the reasons
Pearson is so fascinated -- and dedicated -- to Belle Isle is because of
her particular interest in invasive species and the island's inherent,
well, island-ness. Because it's an island, "this is the place you can
keep, (invasive species) confined." For example, garlic mustard
enjoying a reign of terror around the state, but it has yet to show up
on Belle Isle.
She says the region's collective love for Belle
Isle has made it easy to recruit people for the cause. "To get people to
start to pay attention and come out to help ... this is tangible,"
Pearson says. "The idea, as a conservation steward, is to get people to
come out and be stewards of the island and, at some point, contribute to
that love of place."Go back from whence you came (Ode to
The primary reason the forest is significant is
that it's a feeding ground for migratory birds, but there's never been a
concerted effort to manage or maintain the habitat. Result: invasive
species have taken root. "Honeysuckle and privet don't have a place in
an old-growth forest," Pearson says. "They shade out native plants ...
and keep native flowers from coming up."
especially taken hold along the paths that wind through the woods.
"They've been there a long time -- and we're not proposing they be
closed. But along the paths is disturbed soil, and that's where
invasives like to grow," says Pearson. She leads a group of volunteers
once a month down the path. Invasives are cut back and then treated with
water-safe chemicals. In just three months of work, they've gotten
halfway down the path.
In what may be the first instance of fire
being a positive for Detroit, the city's Recreation and Forestry
departments, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, FOBI and Ann
Arbor-based ecological consultant JFNew
are facilitating prescribed burns
as another way to help rid Belle Isle of some invasive species.
the forest, they are burning the common reed (Phragmites australis
) to allow the native forest
understory to regenerate, and in the wet prairie areas, they are
targeting both phragmites and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
to promote the
growth of native warm-season grasses and plants.
committee also is focused on the eastern end of the island, where purple
loosestrife has taken hold. The FOBI stewards are working with the
Detroit Forestry Department and the Detroit Zoo, the organization that
runs the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, to remove goose eggs from the island to
Pearson takes a long view of the work to be
done. "We're just going to continue applying for grants," she says. "We
are doing this as a systematic thing."
One last little nudge from
Pearson: "To be involved with group like FOBI is very rewarding." How
you can get involved
The Stewardship Committee of the Friends of Belle Isle
hosts monthly workdays, which start at the Nature Zoo at 9 a.m. with
breakfast and a hot drink and run until noon. The next one is this
Saturday, April 24, coinciding with the FOBI's island-wide clean-up. To
RSVP for the woodland cleanup, contact Pearson at 248-647-7841 or Melvadean.Pearson@gmail.com
to contact FOBI about the general clean-up, which meets at the Casino,
call 313-331-7760.Kelli B.
Kavanaugh is development news editor for Model D. Send feedback here.
All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here