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Rouge Park, Detroit’s biggest urban green, deserves more love

Polishing off the other jewel of Detroit

By Detour Neighborhood Ambassador Frank Nemecek

 

Warrendale is a familiar name to most folks in the Detroit. The neighborhood shows up in the news quite a bit, and it’s even been feature in The Onion. In spite of that, most Detroiters could not point to Warrendale on a map. (For the record, my neighborhood is on the city’s border, both north and west of Dearborn.)

And don’t get me started on Rouge Park, which is adjacent to the Warrendale neighborhood and just as unfamiliar to the typical Detroiter.

While the old Onion article jokes about a fictional park the size of a sidewalk square, Warrendale actually has access to Detroit’s largest maintained green space. At 1,181 acres, Rouge Park is larger than Belle Isle, Hart Plaza, Campus Martius, Grand Circus and Capitol Park combined.

The park has more than a dozen amenities that are completely unique to Detroit, such as the only Michigan Mountain Biking Association trail in Wayne County, an archery range, and the 15-acre tall-grass prairie with an ecosystem that supports butterflies and other wildlife. In spite of this, many of the facilities in Rouge Park are underutilized, even by many of my Warrendale neighbors.

Unlike the attention and private funding showered on Belle Isle and Downtown’s public spaces, visitors and money flow to Rouge Park in more of a trickle. The sprawling natural area has overgrown areas and has dealt with issues like dumping. At a recent meeting, members of the Friends of Rouge Park group complained about the city’s failure to maintain the park and widely publicize events.

This was one of the reasons why I was exceptionally glad to see Open Streets come to Rouge Park this summer. The day of programming gave people who didn’t know much about the park the chance to explore the place more closely.

open streets detroit rouge park
Rentable bikes at Open Streets Rouge Park. Credit: Frank Nemecek

An estimated 1,400 people came out for the inaugural edition of Open Streets Rouge Park, according to event organizer Lisa Nuszkowski. A three-mile road loop was closed to allow a coalition of nonprofits, government agencies and businesses to showcase all that the largest park in Detroit has to offer. In total, this included 34 different events, displays, and information tables were set up in that section of the park.

“I never knew this was here,” was a common refrain I heard as I walked around the park during Open Streets. Several people discovered the camping site for youth groups, which reopened this spring after more than a decade. Others came upon the airfield for model airplanes, the community garden, or the miles of trails for the first time.

“There are so many wonderful amenities in Rouge Park, and this was a great way to highlight the natural beauty that exists in Detroit’s largest park,” Nuszkowski told me.

Open Streets did a lot to help people get to know more about a city asset that they probably knew little about. Hopefully, the event will return next year — and the park will eventually get the esteemed reputation and institutional support it deserves.

The Warrendale neighborhood is full of little-known wonders, not all quite as easy to stumble on as Rouge Park. Detour Neighborhood Ambassador Frank Nemecek covers local gems and news on his Warrendale blog, and will introduce Detour readers to another story from his neighborhood in a forthcoming installment.

Nemecek is one of our first four fellows in our Neighborhood Ambassadors program, which lets us to bring you wide-ranging perspectives, highlight often-overlooked local stories and make Detour a stronger, more diverse local news organization. The fellowship program is made possible by our members — click to learn about joining Detour and supporting a community-based news project for just a few bucks a month.

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