It’s difficult to envision the transformation of a land plot used for manufacturing into an environmental protection arena, but it is happening in Detroit. A 44-acre property on the Detroit River that was previously used for manufacturing will soon be renovated and added to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge — an initiative to protect and restore the habitats of hundreds of species. This federally funded project will improve Detroit’s natural environment and potentially produce revenue from tourism. Environmental projects like the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will help rebuild Detroit.

The 44-acre property will be the newest addition to the refuge that is celebrating its 10th anniversary next month. Starting with only 300 acres, the Detroit Refuge now holds more than 5,700 acres of protected land. The territory lies directly in what once was the industrial core of the Motor City.

The new addition to the refuge will include a visitor’s center along with a dock and fishing pier. The makeover is already underway and is funded by $1.2 million in federal funds with another $1.4 million from independent agencies. The current project is paid for by federal funds, giving Detroit the benefit of all the profits. It’s good to see the federal government take an interest in Detroit and support the city financially.

The property was once a part of the Chrysler Corporation and was utilized by the company for 44 years. As Michigan moved away from a manufacturing economy, the site was abandoned and sat behind barbed wire for 12 years. During its active operation, the site contaminated the surrounding area with waste and industrial byproducts. Today, the Detroit Refuge is attempting to change an abandoned wasteland into a source of pride for the city.

The initiative is replanting grasses, restoring wetlands and capping off contaminated areas. As Detroit recovers from its economic hardships, becoming more eco-friendly should be at the top of its priority list.

The waterfront will become safer and cleaner because the project will help reduce the contamination. Aside from the site’s natural beauty, the refuge will house endangered species, like bald eagles, and include attractive recreational opportunities, like kayaking and canoeing, that could generate revenue.

Detroit was once an industrial environment, but rather than mourn the now abandoned buildings, city officials are making positive changes by converting vacant areas into natural environments. The new addition to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will do exactly that. City officials should seek out similar sites in the Detroit area and investigate their potential to join the refuge. Instead of reflecting on the city’s economic and physical downfall, residents and officials should focus on developing Detroit’s green future.

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