Thousands show up to celebrate
By Paula Evans Neuman
Three thousand people showed up at Lake Erie Metropark
in Brownstown Township Saturday to "discover the
wild side" of the Detroit River International Wildlife
They came to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National
Wildlife Refuge System.
They came to show their appreciation for the officials
- public and private, federal, state and local - who made
the nationís newest refuge possible.
And perhaps most of all, they came to play outside.
The celebration, one of four being held nationwide, featured
art, entertainment, exhibits and lots and lots of chances
to learn and play.
People brought their children, and that was especially
pleasing to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton,
a featured speaker during the opening ceremony.
She spoke before the event of how "inspirational"
it was to see the "partners" - government, business
and environmental groups - working together to create
a wildlife refuge in an urban area.
And she said how happy she was to see so many children
there, developing an affinity for conservation that would
last them all their lives.
During the event, she spoke of "the new vision of
cooperative conservation" epitomized by the Detroit
"This administration is wholeheartedly behind the
public-private partnership," Norton said. "We
hope that other urban areas will take note of the great
things being done in Detroit."
All of the islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals
and riverfront land along 18 miles of the lower Detroit
River from River Rouge to the Ohio border are included
in the refuge.
"How do you build a refuge when the land and wetlands
have been developed?" Norton said. "The answer
was to put the refuge here anyway."
Detroit Edison Co. demonstrated exactly how the "public-private
partnership" works, and signed over to the refuge
more than 600 acres of woodlands and water near the Fermi
2 plant in Monroe.
The land will be managed jointly by Edison and the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service, said Steve Williams, director
of the service, who also was on hand for the ceremony.
"We think the Detroit River International Wildlife
Refuge is a real treasure for the future," said Gerard
Anderson, president and chief operating officer of DTE
Energy, Edisonís parent company.
Detroit River Navigator John Hartig talked about partnerships
"Thereís a change happening in southeast Michigan,"
he said. "Our citizens are calling for more conservation
and protection. In many cases, our industries in the area
are leading the change to return this area to its endemic
"Southeast Michigan is recapturing the natural beauty
and wonder that earned it the designation, the Great Lakes
The refuge was the shining star of the day, but U.S.
Rep. John Dingell, D-15th District, was singled out for
praise as well. He came up with the idea for the refuge
and wrote the legislation that created it in 2001.
K. L. Cool, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
director, was among those who praised the venerable congressman
during the ceremony.
"Any conservationist nationwide would consider it
an honor to share a stage with John Dingell," Cool
He noted that Theodore Roosevelt, who began the National
Wildlife Refuge System in 1903, is known today as the
"John Dingell is the conservation congressman of
the century," Cool said.
He presented Dingell with a plaque for his "five
decades of outstanding support" of conservation.
"We are proud of what has been accomplished; more
is yet to be done," Dingell told the crowd. "All
of this is about vision."
He, in turn, honored the vision of the late Peter Stroh,
a Detroit businessman who was instrumental in the creation
of the refuge and in the Detroit River being named as
an American Heritage River.
Dingell dedicated Saturdayís event to Stroh, whose family
was on hand to enjoy the day.
"Peter would have been very proud and very thankful
to be here," said his widow, Nicole Stroh.
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced a $50,000
grant Wayne County has received to pay for design work
on the refuge headquarters, which will be in Trenton on
former DaimlerChrysler land.
Wayne County will match the grant with an additional
$50,000, Ficano said.
In a day of happy announcements for the refuge, Ken Schmitt,
director of the Essex Region Conservation Area in Ontario,
Canada, added one from the other side of the river.
"We anticipate the donation within a year of a significant
wetland on the Canadian side," he said.
After the ceremony, the park filled with families and
children - playing outside.