Belle Isle, now a state park, is drawing a slew of visitors to the island.
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Belle Isle is the most-attended park in Michigan.
“It’s the largest in terms of attendance,’’ Ed Golder, DNR public information officer, said Friday. “Absolutely. It’s the best-attended park in the state park system. We’re tracking it through car counts where we use a multiplier that assumes a certain number of occupants for each vehicle.’’
In 2016, four million people visited Belle Isle. That compares to 3.8 million the year before.
The DNR didn't keep numbers in 2014 because it took over the park in February and didn't get fully operational until June.
The 982-acre island in the Detroit River replaced Holland State Park (2.5 million last year) as the most attended park.
►Related: 8 things to see and do on Belle Isle
Some believe Belle Isle not only is the most attended park in Michigan, but in the country.
"From the numbers we've seen, it's the most attended park in the United States,'' said Michele Hodges, president of the Belle Isle Conservatory.
Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation for the DNR, agreed.
"I can't give you a study," Olson said, "(But) we haven't had anybody say otherwise.''
Owned by the city of Detroit, Belle Isle is managed by the state through a 30-year lease. It’s the largest city-owned park in the U.S. and is the third-largest island in the Detroit River after Grosse Ile and Fighting Island.
The DNR, through donations, grants and budgeting, has spent $32 million to get Belle Isle to its current state.
The money has been used to reopen all the bathrooms, renovate the historic Casino Building, fix lights along the MacArthur bridge, revamp picnic shelters and more.
But not everyone is happy about what's happening on the island.
The DNR is fielding complaints from island supporters over the annual Detroit Grand Prix, held each June.
This year's race is scheduled for June 2-4, and work already is under way to prepare for the event.
“There’s ongoing conversations going on about the Grand Prix,’’ said Golder. “There are certainly strong supporters of the Grand Prix. There are some folks who are concerned about having the race on the island."
The conservatory's Hodges said feedback on the race is mixed.
"We all recognize that there is an impact on the island. It's just a matter of finding that balance and committing to solutions to ensure we have a good community partner to help us achieve our mission,'' he said.
Hodges said the park will be busy this weekend with the island's annual cleanup.
Hodges said she expects 800 volunteers to come out.
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