Anyone who goes to Belle Isle in the peak months of May and June and thinks this is an appropriate event to take place in a public park is not an advocate for the DNR mission “committed to the conservation, protection, management, use, and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources of current and future generations.” A public park should not host a car race or any corporate event that commercializes, permanently defaces, and restricts public access to key areas of the park. I couldn’t even get to Sunset Point today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how now more than ever public parks and outdoor spaces like Belle Isle are important to people’s general health and well-being. Yet, here we are in Spring 2021 having to battle and compete with the chaotic and restrictive Grand Prix setup, trying to gain access to this vital park refuge for humans, plants, and animals.
The park has been forced to shut down public vehicular traffic several times in the past couple of weeks because the footprint for the race setup has rendered parking spaces and prime areas of Belle Isle unusable and inaccessible. Yes, the occupation of the Grand Prix needs to end.
We often dismiss the importance of nature. We overlook the impact having parks in our communities can have. We must never undervalue that and we must fight to make sure that public parks belong to the people, not corporations or those with the most money.
I am a member of Belle Isle Concern, a group organized to protect the island from commercialization and privatization that restricts access and destroys the natural landscape of the park for future generations. This group has led the fight of getting the Grand Prix to stop utilizing Belle Isle for their car race. We are not opposed to the Grand Prix race event, we just don’t support holding the race on Belle Isle, a historic public park. Roger Penske and his supporters have enough money to build their own private racetrack without holding Belle Isle hostage for two months for their own playground.
In a recent Crain’s article about the Grand Prix race, one of the main organizers of the race mentions that “Certainly, the benefits, we feel, obviously outweigh any of the distractions that occur there for a short period of time.”
I don’t consider two months of our short warm weather season a short amount of time. Nor do I consider a chaotic construction zone with lots of noise and unsightly eyesores like grandstands, concrete barricades, and miles of chain link fencing a reasonable tradeoff for holding the event in this essential public park. The majority of those in charge at the DNR and Belle Isle Conservancy, including the organizers and attendees of the event, do not live close by so they are not inconvenienced by any of this.
The Grand Prix organizers consistently use the money they claim to give back as their way to justify this inappropriate use of a public park. If their prime interest was the sustainability of the park they should just make a donation from their large coffers. Perhaps, the Penske Corporation could use some of its “all-time record profit” and some of the money they saved from paying an effective federal tax rate of minus 15.5% for last year on its $505 million in pretax income.
Belle Isle has to be protected for all of us to continue to enjoy it as a public park. There has to be unbiased leadership that will follow the park’s mission and find a way to establish a fund for the upkeep, improvements and maintenance of Belle Isle in a more suitable, sustainable, and equitable way.
We also need more voices to speak up and protect Belle Isle. Future generations are counting on us to do the right thing. Belle Isle is a park, not a racetrack. The Grand Prix needs to be permanently removed from Belle Isle.
Belle Isle photo by Amy Sacka.