belle isle
The state Department of Natural Resources plans to add trolley service on Belle Isle this summer, (Canva photo)

Belle Isle park goers will soon be able to travel the island by trolley. 

Starting this summer, several trolleys will operate Thursday to Sunday to manage traffic congestion on the 982-acre island park. The cost is still being negotiated, but the state Department of Natural Resources plans to foot the bill unless another sponsor emerges. 

The trolleys will operate from noon to 8 p.m. and the tentative route will run from the island’s concrete paddock to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and Belle Isle Aquarium, the kids row playground and to the beach. 


“We’re looking at having probably two (trolleys) in the routes so we’re not having people wait that long at certain locations throughout the island,” Scott Pratt, chief of southern field operations for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources told BridgeDetroit. “This is a work in progress because we’re not sure where people will want to attend on the island itself,” he said.

The trolley system, combined with reduced construction and improved traffic management, will allow for more visitors on the island, Pratt told BridgeDetroit. Last year, due to flooding and construction, only 70% of the park was accessible, and there were around 2,100 parking spots. 

Some Detroiters expressed dismay over several closures of the island last summer, often on the hottest and nicest days, due to heavy vehicle traffic. 

This year, 95% of the park will be accessible and more than a total of 3,500 parking spots will be available, creating less bottlenecks in different areas of the island, Pratt said. 

​​”Hopefully with more of the park being accessible this year, we’re gonna see less and less of those closures and more and more people enjoying the park,” he said. 

The DNR is considering three companies to provide the trolley service and is waiting for bids to come in to decide which company they’ll go with. The company they go with will determine what the trolley looks like, but Pratt said it will be “in between a school bus and a trolley,” similar to a small charter bus. 

With the trolley system comes parking attendants to manage the parking lots. It’s a package deal, Pratt told BridgeDetroit, which will free up park rangers to focus more on bathroom and garbage pickup, and enforcement. 

Michele Hodges, president and CEO of the Belle Isle Conservancy, called the trolley system plan an important step for the island. 

“Ensuring access to Belle Isle at all times and ease of traversing the island oce on it are two of our most important priorities,” she said. “We are grateful to the MDNR for bringing resources to the table.”

In other Belle Isle news, the casino is getting a new roof, several new trails are open, and kayaks are back. 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

Join the Conversation


  1. For bus loads of locals or tourists , if to build a parking structure where the Elias used to be , nevermind Pinky’s, to have more than a few bus /carriage drop off and pick up points for shuttle service around the island picking up and dropping off people in a loop around the island should assist in crowd control or parking issues .

  2. We need to increase bus service to and around the island so people that people don’t have to drive & take up space with vehicles. This “trolley” seems like gimmick that will still require driving onto the island by car, thus not solving the core problem.

  3. As someone who accesses the island via DDOT bus, I look forward to having a trolley option so I can more easily access more of the island each visit.

  4. Not a good idea to me. Who wants to park somewhere else, then walk miles with bags and coolers, picnic items to catch a trolley around the park looking for a spot to set up. Thumbs down for that idea.

  5. By trolley they mean bus. These are 2 different things. 3 companies have been chosen to submit bids. That’s not an open bidding system. Soon there will probably be auto restrictions on the island. Tell the whole story and at least people know what is really happening.

  6. I’m also waiting for the bath house. That should be a priority!! People don’t want to bring their swim gear and go home in wet clothes!!!

  7. What about the elderly and HANDICAPPED? How are they supposed to maneuver thru this??? Will there be a cost associated with this???

  8. There should be some kind of theme park boat rides. Ext Chicago has take a page or two from them there’s nothing to do there but look at the water

    1. You can place the blame on the Great Lakes Water Authority. Before they took over the water and sewage we didn’t have all of these problems with neighborhoods, freeways, and basements flooding.

      Just one man’s observation!

  9. If I need a ride to come on the island, why the heck do I pay a fee every year when renewing my license to come on the island as much as I like?

  10. What if a disaster, storm, or fighting happens where will the people go? It takes time to get off the island even in a car. 2 trolleys to transport over a thousand people isn’t going to work. That’s why I purchased a park pass now what. To come and go as I please. This is just another attempt to put condos on the island by making it impossible to use it. Shameful

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