Ecorse — This 2.4-square-mile city with 4.6 miles of waterfront aspires to be a recreational water destination Downriver.
It’s getting millions in grants to support that dream. Plenty of help is being supplied from environmentalists, neighboring cities and residents who have volunteered hours of their time to clean up Ecorse Creek, long neglected amid decades of industrial use.
The effort is starting to pay off. The city is about to revamp its public boat launch, build a new kayak dock and a fish cleaning station and improve the site’s parking lot on the Detroit riverfront. In addition, Pepper Road Park is getting a splash pad and a new kayak launch that will serve Ecorse Creek.
The upgrades slated for the public boat launch is possible due to a $1.6 million federal grant aimed at boosting tourism from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has also awarded $1 million to the city for the planned upgrades. In the past year, the city has received close to $3 million from federal, state and county funds for the various projects.
“I know that this funding will be a great benefit not only to highlight our district’s natural resources but will also help to further much needed economic development for the city,” said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democrat who represents the city of the $1.6 million federal grant announced last month. It's also designed to help communities diversify its economy from coal and heavy industry.
“The water is a beautiful thing about living in Michigan and living Downriver. It’s wonderful,” said Mayor Lamar Tidwell as he stood in the parking lot of the Ecorse Boat Ramp, 4633 W. Jefferson Ave. The city borders 2.5 miles of the Detroit River. In addition, Ecorse Creek winds through 2.1 miles of the city, mainly through residential streets.
“We know this is our main attraction to Ecorse. We want to make it so that people want to come here,” and enjoy the water, Tidwell said. The Ecorse Boat Ramp is already popular, attracting more than 6,000 boaters so far this year, Tidwell said. On a recent unseasonably warm and sunny October morning, the launch was in heavy use by people with small fishing boats, including a couple from Inkster who fishing for perch.
“We believe we can get about 10,000 boat launches a year after the improvements,” Tidwell said. The improvements include replacing the current dock with a new one that is compliant with the federal American Disabilities Act. A few yards away, the new kayak slip will be created. Not far away from the slip will be the new fish cleaning station, since the boat launch is popular among fishing enthusiasts. The improvements, which have not begun, are expected to be completed by the end of 2023, Tidwell said.
The ramp is near Mud Island, a small nature preserve that’s part of the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is run by the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes more than 30 separate parcels of land mainly located Downriver. Mud Island is among the habitats that supports 300 species of birds.
“During the winter, we get lots of people who come here because they can see bald eagles,” at Mud Island, Tidwell said.
Activists have also played a role in helping to revitalize Ecorse. In May, a legal settlement was reached by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice in a Clean Air Act enforcement case against DTE Energy. The utility is giving a combined $2.7 million to 10 community-based environmental justice projects in Ecorse, River Rouge and the 48217 ZIP code aimed at improving public health and reducing environmental impacts. The settlement also requires DTE to retire the River Rouge, Trenton Channel and St. Clair coal plants by 2023.
Parts of Ecorse’s riverfront is an idle parcel of land owned U.S. Steel Corp. The city is negotiating with the company to use part of the property to further transform the riverfront, Tidwell said.
Beyond the riverfront, Ecorse Creek is starting to become a welcoming spot for recreational users. At Pepper Road Park, work on a new kayak slip and a splash pad is just starting. The city park runs along Ecorse Creek. Several years ago, a group of residents began cleaning Ecorse Creek. Kayaker Kelly Rose is pivotal in overseeing the group, called Ecorse Creek Committee.
“I moved to Ecorse six years ago and it was really the first time I noticed the creek,” Rose said. “I saw that it was beautiful. Everything was overgrown around it. I was sad when I saw all the garbage.”
Rose and other volunteers have removed mattresses, plenty of shopping carts, tractor tires and other large debris from the creek over the years. The group is currently removing large trees.
The group’s effort helped secure the city $102,000 from the U.S National Fish and Wildlife Service for habitat restoration at Pepper Road Park and put in a kayak launch. The Ecorse group is now working with groups interested in cleaning up the creek in neighboring Lincoln Park. The city is also working with Lincoln Park to secure funding for bike/pedestrian path along the creek.
Another result of the cleanups is that less trash appears to be dumped in the creek, Rose said.
“That’s really encouraging,” Rose said. “People are starting to see this gift that we have, and, that more of us can use and enjoy.”