Grosse Ile: The Largest Island on the Detroit River

Just south of the “D” further along the Detroit River, there is a cluster of 14 islands where slightly over 10,000 residents call home.  This group of islands is commonly known as Grosse Ile (Township), named after the largest of the islands — which is French for “big island.” Not all of the islands are inhabited, although Hickory, Elba, and Swan Islands have a small population.

Grosse Ile is the largest island in the Detroit River, and north to south, it stretches from Wyandotte to Gibraltar. It is ten miles long by one mile wide making it about ten square miles in total. Technically, Grosse Ile is actually two islands divided in two by the Thorofare canal.

Other than by boat, you can only gain entry via the two bridges that offer access to the island.  There are four marinas and/or boat clubs, three golf courses, and even an airport located in the township.

This sleepy little town with a “small town feel” can be best described as country in the city.  Although many residents grew up on the island, the population is largely residents who hail from other Downriver cities or beyond to enjoy the peaceful, country feel.  Whether you live there or visit, it’s one of the most unique communities you’ll ever come across.  

We met with the Township Manager, Dale Reaume, to talk about the some of the Island highlights and fun facts about the uniqueness of Grosse Ile.  Read on to learn about our visit.

Things to do

During the summer, Grosse Ile has a lot of relaxing and fun events to enjoy, for both residents and visitors alike.  Smokies on the Water has live outdoor entertainment featuring classic rock bands. There are movies in the park featuring family-friendly shows on the big screen at Macomb and Meridian at the Macomb Commons.  Bike and nature trails are abundant and seeing herds of deer are not uncommon during any given time.

The Islandfest is one of the first Downriver festivals to open the festival season in the spring.  This fun-filled weekend is held at the airport and has a carnival, vendors in the hangar, live entertainment, and an over-the-top firework display.

In the fall, you can enjoy Phantom Forest hayrides at Westcroft Gardens. Your choice of non-scary day rides or super scary night rides!  

Safest City in Michigan

Grosse Ile has, once again, been named the safest city in Michigan, according to a study by alarms.org. For six years, the township has held that title and it’s not by accident.

Dale Reaume, the township manager, states that because of the “very dedicated police and fire departments” and support of the residents via millages, the impact of that combination has earned this standard.

Community App:  Grosse Ile Connect

If you live or commute to Grosse Ile, the app called Grosse Ile Connect is a must have for your Smartphone.

The push notifications notify recipients of free bridge openings for DTE freighters bringing in loads of coal to the Trenton DTE power plant, community events such as recreation events, and even water main breaks in various neighborhoods.  

This will be especially important during the repairs for the Wayne County swing bridge, and the last section of this article, Infrastructure Updates, reiterates the value of this app.  The Township will notify via push notifications any updates on proposed repair schedules that Wayne County provides.

Open Space Properties

Much of Grosse Ile is uninhabited by design and that property is called “open space.”  This property is owned by the Township and it cannot be developed. Home to thriving wildlife, herds of deer and plenty of turtles are some of the animals that thrive in the dense tree areas and wetlands.  

A family of eagles has made their home on the main island for around three years, and oftentimes you can see the majestic birds with their impressive wingspan soaring in the blue skies.  They are a pair who have had offspring during the three years or so of their residency.

 

George H.W. Bush

Grosse Ile used to be home to a Naval Air Station Base that former President George H.W. Bush was once stationed at. The base opened in 1927 and operated until 1969. During the Second World War, the base was one of the largest flight training stations. President Bush was stationed at the base late in his naval career around 1945.

He and his wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, actually lived in Trenton for about two months while he was stationed at the base. Trenton was the first place the couple lived after they got married in January of 1945.

The Grosse Ile Naval Air Station Base is now the Grosse Ile Municipal Airport.

Infrastructure Updates

Like many communities, infrastructure such as water mains, roads, and bridges have limited lifespans.  Repairs and replacements are an ongoing necessity, especially in Michigan with the heat-thaw weather phases.

Mr. Reaume describes below some of the long-term infrastructure plans that are in place for Grosse Ile.   

He states the capital improvement plans for water supply will greatly benefit the community.  He also describes the plans for capital improvements on the Wayne County free bridge pier repairs and the proposed closing schedule.

The Township of Grosse Ile is a General Law Township which means Wayne County is responsible for the roads and bridges in the community.  The Township voters have approved a road maintenance millage which allows the Township to partner with Wayne County on road repairs under the Wayne County Local Roads Initiative Program.

Many bridges have been identified for funding and repair from Wayne County under the MDOT Local Bridge Program.  In 2019, Wayne County is planning two major bridge repairs.:

  1. The total reconstruction of the East River Causeway bridge to Hickory Island at an estimated cost of  $1.8M.
  2. Rehabilitation of the piers of the Grosse Ile Parkway swing bridge at an estimated cost of $1.5M.  Traffic will be maintained during the reconstruction of the East River causeway bridge.  Only limited lane closures are planned for the pier work on the swing bridge.  In 2020, the West River Road overpass is planned for total reconstruction.  At this time it is anticipated to be closed for approximately four months.  Also, during this closure period, Wayne County is planning additional maintenance and painting on the swing bridge.

Wayne County has assured Township Officials that they are doing as much as possible to limit closures and impact to the residents of Grosse Ile.  Be sure to have the Grosse Ile Connect app on your smartphone.  Immediate notices and advisories will be posted. The website,  www.grosseile.com, will also be utilized to post any information.

 

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