Belle Isle Zoo



The Belle Isle Nature Zoo/Safariland. Residing on a two and a half mile long island situated in the middle of the Detroit river; this place was its own type of isolated, yet still out in the open enough to still worry about outsiders seeing you. ​ Belle Isle is a recreational park, featuring "boat clubs, fishing piers, swimming, and picnic pavilions; the park has been a getaway destination for generations of residents." (DetroitUrbex) The early history of the zoo is best described by nailhed, another urban explorer: "According to the Belle Isle Conservancy, Detroit's first city zoo, the Belle Isle Zoo, was established in 1895 with a deer park and a bear den. By 1909, it had grown to 150 animals on 32 acres. The Belle Isle Children’s Zoo was established in 1947, but closed and was "dismantled by the 1970s." Belle Isle Safari Zoo--the one we see today--was opened in 1980 and featured raised walkways expanded into the wooded area." (nailhed, 2008) The picture below is from 1940, and shows a family outside of the entrance of the old Children's Zoo.

Picture pulled from DetroitUrbex

The Forgotten Existence first entered the island of Belle Isle through the MacArthur Bridge, having to pay a small fee for a Michigan recreation pass. No big deal. We drove around the island, sightseeing for a little bit, before we ultimately decided to make the trek for The Belle Isle Zoo. After seeing the long lost and forgotten zoo through the fences surrounding the place, The Forgotten Existence had one goal in mind: we had to document this place. ​ We parked outside one of the nearby buildings, and found a nature trail that ran parallel to the abandoned zoo. The nature trail did indeed run parallel to the zoo, but was separated from the main fence surrounding it by a small creek which was too large to simply hop across on foot. After walking for a good 500 feet, we encountered a bridge that would take us further down the nature trail, but across the creek and closer to the fence surrounding the zoo. After crossing the bridge, and only about 30 feet after the fact, we found a small path. The path was overgrown with trees, and shrubbery, but was still accessible enough for us to traverse. We were fortunate enough to get right up to the barbed wire fence that surrounded the facility, and we were also fortunate enough to find a door in the fence. This door was padlocked and chained shut, but was bent near the top, and below the barbed wire. It was just big enough for both of us to squeeze into. After doing so, we were in. ​ The initial place we were in, after squeezing through the fenced door, was a small walkway/road named Tanglewood St. (or so Google Maps tells me), it was right next to a bridge (another one inside the facility, not the one that we initially crossed) that crossed the creek that was mentioned previously. To the right of the bridge was Tanglewood St, and to the left was Vista Dr. We decided to go right at first, but Tanglewood St. seemed to be a lost cause after travelling for about 700 feet or so. It was a dead end, surrounded by another fence that further prohibited us from entering the abandoned zoo. After travelling back to our starting point near the fenced door, we decided to go to the left, down Vista Dr, instead of right, towards Tanglewood St. ​ Vista Dr. was much more promising. We crossed the bridge that turned Tanglewood and Vista into one, and turned left down a small concrete path that led us to yet another hole in a fence. This fence had a small building intersecting it, covered by graffiti and in a state of disrepair. This was definitely the right way. After squeezing through the second fence, we were met with the gorgeous view depicted in the image below.

We were greeted by two large wooden canopies, that overlooked the entire facility. Towering in their abandoned greatness, we knew that we had to check it out. After venturing across the cement pad seen in the picture to the left, we encountered yet another fence that guarded the cement pad from the wooden canopies that towered above. This fence however, had a door in it that was hanging wide open. After passing through said door, we were greeted by an expanse of underpasses and walkways that ran directly below the main wooden walkways of the zoo. We found our way up some concrete stairs that led to the main wooden platforms that were elevated above the underpasses. We were at the main attraction. ​ Wooden platforms, wooden walkways, and wooden canopies were the

only things you could see in any direction. The wood of the platforms that we were walking on were rotting, flimsy, and they bowed under our weight as we walked on them. We walked slowly, steadily, and cautiously the whole way, fearing that one wrong step might send us plummeting what looked like 15 feet to the underpasses below. Finally, we made it to stable concrete floor in the center of one of the canopies. This concrete floor was home to one of the most beautiful displays of graffiti. There were murals that stretched from floor to ceiling, and from side to side, that burst with color and creative expression. The only downside to these beautiful murals, were of course the profanity and phallic objects that surrounded them, and in some cases overlapped them. This was normal in an abandoned building, however, and didn't take away from the beauty of the original murals. ​ After traveling around with our cameras, and taking pictures of the entire facility, we encountered foreign footsteps. Cautiously, we dropped into a dead silence in an attempt to listen to the footsteps closer. We looked at each other, "there's someone else here" we both mouthed. Knowing that this could make or break our entire adventure, we decided to take the pictures that we had, and to scram. After quickly and quietly venturing back the way that we came, we were able to put a face to the footsteps that we heard. He was right in front of us. The person we were fearing would bust us, however, turned out to be another urban explorer with a camera of his own. Relived, we made some small talk with this individual for a bit. He told us that this was his first time here as well, and that he had entered a different way from us. We told him the way we came in, and he thanked us for the alternate route. We then went our separate ways, wishing good luck to each other as we did so. ​ Relieved, but still a bit spooked, we decided that it was time to go. If someone else was in here, that means that there could be even more people coming, or even worse, someone who wouldn't want us there at all. We put our cameras away and focused on one goal: escape. We went back to exactly where we entered, on the bridge between Tanglewood St. and Vista Dr. We squeezed through the fence door once more, and were back onto the nature trail that we had entered from. It was definitely an adventure in the Belle Isle Zoo. We were disappointed that we didn't get more pictures of the rest of the facility, near the entrance, but we were still happy that we were able to get what we got, and that we were able to quickly disappear back into the general population.

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