A 982-acre island in the Detroit River, Belle Isle is managed by the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation. It was home to the Detroit Grand Prix from 1992-2001, utilizing a temporary street circuit that was constructed specifically for the CART races. In 2007, it once again hosted world-class racing with both the open-wheel cars of the IndyCar Series and the sports cars of the American Le Mans Series competing at the event. Connected to Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge, various entities call Belle Isle home, including the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the Detroit Boat Club, the Detroit Yacht Club, a municipal golf course, an aquarium and a Coast Guard post.
The island also includes a half-mile swimming beach, the only one in the city, and a nature center. The aquarium opened in 1904, making it the oldest public aquarium in the United States. City officials closed it on April 3, 2005 due to budgetary reasons, but four months later Motown’s citizens voted overwhelmingly to reopen it. The vote, however, was non-binding.
Landscaped in the 1880s by Frederick L. Olmsted, the highlights of Belle Isle are the aquarium, Scott Fountain and the botanical garden in the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. The conservatory and the 1908 Belle Isle Casino were constructed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn, well-known for developing open-floor plan concrete factories. The casino building is no longer a gambling facility, but it is used for public events. Belle Isle also was home to a large herd of European fallow deer for more than 50 years. A few remain as exhibits at the nature center, but the last of the 300 animals was captured in 2004 and relocated.