You don't often think of lighthouses in an urban setting, but check out this pretty lighthouse along the Detroit River in downtown Detroit.
The light tower at Milliken State Park, along Detroit's Riverwalk and near the city's high-rise GM Renaissance Center, isn't an official lighthouse by U.S. Coast Guard standards, but it is a safety light, or private guide to navigation, at the park's marina entrance.
The light tower at Milliken state park is 63 feet tall and represents many of the historic light towers that once dotted the Detroit River. It is also nearly a full-scale model of the tower at Tawas Point in Michigan's northeastern Lower Peninsula.
The first light at Tawas Point cost $5,000 in the early 1850s, but it fell into disrepair and required replacing like many early Michigan lighthouses. The current Tawas Point light cost $30,000 in 1876, while the Holt, Michigan, firm responsible for the masonry work on the lighthouse in 2004 at Milliken State Park estimated just the cost of the brickwork on that tower at $2 million.
The park as it currently stands consists of the former city-owned St. Aubin Park and Marina, along with a reclaimed brownfield.
The 31-acre Milliken State Park is Michigan's first urban state park. It opened in 2004 as Tri-Centennial State Park in recognition of the 300th year after Detroit's 1701 founding.
The park included a refurbished 52-slip marina, shore fishing platforms, covered picnic areas, and the light tower when Michigan's Department of Natural Resources opened it to the public.
The next step in the park's development came a few years later as the state acquired an old industrial site next to Rivard Plaza, cleaning it up and using the property to create wetlands similar to those that once lined the river before disappearing in the wake of the rise in industries like shipbuilding.
By 2009, the six-acre land parcel transformed into wetlands opened to the public. The wetlands include a demonstration area with interpretive signs explaining how the wetlands filter storm water and naturally clean it before it returns to the Detroit River.
The wetlands include plants native to southeastern Michigan. Visitors report spotting wildlife like geese, hawks, pheasants, muskrats, and foxes in the park, and the state DNR hopes to see the wetlands attract migratory birds.
The state renamed the park for former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken in 2009. Milliken, the state's governor from 1969 to 1983, was one of Michigan's most conservation and environmentally minded politicians. Michigan's passage of a bottle deposit bill (1976), limits on phosphate in laundry detergents that contributed to Lake Erie's recovery (1977), and adoption of the Wetland Protection Act (1979) all happened on Milliken's watch. The former governor remains a strong advocate for conservation and environmental issues.
A sluggish economy and demise of some industries created opportunities for the state to acquire properties to create and expand the riverfront park. The state still plans to rehab other post-industrial properties in the area, and hopes to open a new outdoor activity center in 2012.
Recent developments in the area include expansion of the Dequindre Cut, connecting the park to sites like Eastern Market and downtown residential areas via a greenway pedestrian and bicycle path created along an abandoned railroad bed. Visitors can bring their own bikes or check out bike rentals at Wheelhouse Detroit, which is right next to the park.
Want to learn more about the Milliken State Park's namesake? Check out William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate by Dave Dempsey.
© Dominique King 2011 All rights reserved