Walk On, Detroit — What's in Store for Year 2 of Detroit's RiverWalk

Spring is here, seriously folks. The thermometer is finally starting to creep over 40 — maybe even 50 on a good day— on a regular basis.

And that means Detroiters are more than ready for waterside walks, boat shows, bike treks and carousel rides.

Rewind to last fall and you'll recall that the new Detroit RiverWalk is more than 75 percent complete, with the 2 1/2 miles stretching from Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park already a favorite hangout. (Click here for the Riverfront Conservancy's official map.)

This year a few brick-and-mortar projects will get off the ground to move it a little closer to completion, plus expanded programming and services will draw more visitors.

Stuff to watch

Tricentennial State Park:
Michigan's first urban state park is already a harbor complete, and phase II construction is set to break ground this summer. Lowland Park will connect to the RiverWalk at Atwater Street and feature a demonstration wetland that collects and cleanses stormwater, then feeds into the Detroit River. RiverWalkers, runners, bikers, loiterers and the rest will get an up-close view of the operation from the path, which will sandwich the wetland from the north and south. The State Department of Parks and Recreation is currently working out agreements with adjacent landowners to collect their stormwater. Other not-to-miss features include fishing nodes, historical interpretations, and native Michigan limestone seating areas.

• Uniroyal Site Cleanup: It's a big, messy job that just recently got extended, but the good news is that it is slated to start this year. The even better news is that once it's complete, 40-plus acres of riverfront just off the Belle Isle Bridge will be ready for RiverWalk construction. Bettis/Betters Development will be managing the clean-up and is hatching plans for mixed-use development.

• Dequindre Cut: The infamous railroad right-of-way-turned-graf-gallery will soon be ready for bikers and walkers. The DEGC plans to open the Woodbridge to Gratiot portion in early-mid July. They have finished clearing the foliage and replacing a surprise sewer line (the joys of urban redevelopment), and will soon start reconstructing the fencing, salvaging any sections they can. Phase II, Gratiot to Mack, is in the early planning stages. When all's said and done, you'll be able to hop the below grade greenway from Tricentennial State Park and travel all the way up to Eastern Market for fresh produce — all with camera surveillance, DRFC-supplied security, and zero environmental impact.

• Port Authority Dock and Terminal: By July, the Port Authority is planning to begin construction of a new dock and terminal that will allow for larger cruise ships to dock in Detroit. Currently the big ol' boys of the Great Lakes Cruise Line can't pull in like they can on Windsor's side of the river, so this project will likely translate to a nice little boost for Detroit travel and tourism.

• Watermark: Development of the Bing Group's Watermark property is moving along. Models are open, and they are taking reservations. Take a look inside on Model D TV.

• Parking at Gabriel Richard Park: At the far east end of the RiverWalk, Booken Plaza's quiet fishing nodes, meditative labyrinth and peaceful pathways summon a state of relaxation from even the most high-strung visitors. Soon it will be easier to tap into this contemplative aura. The Riverfront Conservancy is working with the city of Detroit to develop a parking structure near the Gabriel Richard Park RiverWalk entrance.

• West RiverFront: While completion of the East RiverFront is the Riverfront Conservancy's primary focus, it is working to secure funding and land for the portion of RiverWalk that will extend to the Ambassador Bridge. In November, the DRFC purchased 26 acres of land formerly occupied by the Free Press building, and it will move forward with visioning throughout 2008.

Stuff to do

This year the Riverfront Conservancy is launching new RiverWalk activities that will spice up languid summer days and muggy nights. Don't worry: River Days, the fireworks —they're coming back. But this year there will be even more to do.

• River Days and 50th Annual Target Fireworks: The RiverWalk's signature event will return with a new name, GM River Days. If you missed it and the 700,000+ people who packed the RiverWalk last year, you'd better be camped outside the Ren Cen this time around. The four-day festival starts June 20 and ends with a bang on the 23rd with the 50th Annual Target Fireworks. Like last year, there will be live music, interactive games, carnival elements and the Parade of Lights boat show on the Detroit River. The Riverfront Conservancy will announce details in a week or two. Bring the kiddies.

• Concessions and bikes: This summer the RiverWalk's recreational and culinary options will be significantly expanded with the opening of bike rentals at the Wheelhouse (see this week's Development News) and concessions at Rivard Plaza. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be available, so you'll easily be able to while away entire summer days cruising the boardwalk, relaxing at Gabriel Richard Park's contemplative surroundings, and watching busy execs steal a minute of sunshine outside the Ren Cen.

Rockin' on the Riverfront: The free concerts will return every Friday (except July 4) to the GM Plaza behind the Renaissance Center starting June 27 and running until August 22. The 2008 line-up will be announced next week, and look for more details at www.GMrencen.com. Check next week's issue of Model D for more, too.

Red Bull Air Race: On May 31, a new event is coming to town, and it'll bring some international attention with it. Planes will race above the Detroit River and whiz between inflatable, floating pylons. The event is part of a series of races that have visited cities all over the world, from Abu Dhabi to London to Perth. You can learn more at the Red Bull Air Race web site, redbullairrace.com.

• Community engagement: The Riverfront Conservancy promises many other family- and pet-friendly events for 2008 and will announce its full program line-up soon. Also in store are new opportunities for community involvement, possibility including a public committee that addresses ways to enhance the RiverWalk experience. "Representing history is a critical priority for us," says Riverfront Conservancy President & CEO Faye Nelson. "We hope to put together a committee reflective of the neighborhood to discuss how we can do that."  Walk on, Detroit.

For more on the RiverWalk, go to www.detroitriverfront.org.

Sharon Carney is a local freelance writer. This is her first story for Model  D.

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