The 32-mile long Detroit River is part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, which extends from Duluth, Minnesota to Montreal, Canada. Since the first trading post was established in 1701 at Fort Pontchartrain near what is now Detroit, the river has played a central role in the economic and cultural life of the region. Once a "roadway" for Native Americans and early settlers, it later carried black slaves fleeing the South. Early this century, it linked iron mines from the north and coal mines from the south, fueling the growth of the automobile and steel industries.
The Detroit River is central to life in modern-day Detroit, both as a working river and as a source of recreation. The 982-acre Belle Isle Park along the river is one of the nation's most heavily used urban parks. Downtown riverfront promenades link restaurants, theaters, shopping and outdoor plazas where each year millions of people enjoy international festivals.
The Detroit River serves more than 5 million people with drinking water, recreation and cultural opportunities. It is the busiest port in the Great Lakes, with 8,000 commercial vessels each year carrying more than 100 million tons of cargo. The United States and Canada are the world's biggest trading partners, exchanging goods worth $1 billion a day, and one-third of all mercantile trade between the two countries goes over the Ambassador Bridge between Ontario and Detroit.
While the river paid a heavy price during the industrial growth of the region, cleanup efforts have improved water quality, and wildlife again flourishes. The river supports more than 3 million waterfowl, millions of walleye migrate annually through its waters, and where the river empties into Lake Erie, protected wetlands support over 300 threatened and endangered species.
Community Action Plan
Building on existing efforts, the Action Plan aims to further environmental restoration, expand river-based economic opportunities and promote the region's unique culture and history. Specific goals include reducing toxic pollution, encouraging environmentally sound riverfront industry, and improving access to riverside parks and wildlife areas. A primary focus is supporting river-related activities in connection with Detroit 300 -- the celebration of Detroits 300th birthday in 2001.
Peter W. Stroh, Greater Detroit American Heritage River Team (313)