Connecting people with nature in the heart of southeast Michigan

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge aims to attract 100,000 visitors with its Refuge Gateway this spring

There will be lots “in store” for wildlife and nature fans visiting Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) this year.

The long-awaited Refuge Gateway, made possible with the help of multiple partners over the past 10 years, is on track to open this spring. Located on the Trenton Channel of the Detroit River, the Refuge Gateway is owned by Wayne County and collaboratively managed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Major features of its opening include the John D. Dingell Jr. Visitor Centre and its adjacent Humbug Marsh unit of the DWIWR, whose 410 acres include a world-class fishing pier and a handicap-accessible kayak launch.

Once open to the public, visitation is expected to be high—upwards of 100,000 from neighbors in all directions such as Ohio and Ontario, Canada.

“The refuge provides educational and recreational experiences with nature in an urban center,” says Joann Van Aken, executive director of the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance (IWRA), a non-profit organization that assists with fundraising for DRIWR initiatives. “Nowhere else in southeast Michigan can you find this environment—complete with fishing pier and an exhibit hall in the visitor center with all the information you could want at your fingertips.”

The DRIWR is a unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, and is accessible to about seven million people within a 45-minute drive. The DRIWR is North America’s only international wildlife refuge—protecting over 5,700 acres of shoal, island, wetland, forest and coastal habitat.

Crowds are drawn to the nature hotspot each spring for its vibrant population of migratory songbirds, walleye fishing and fall raptor migration.

Enbridge is committed to sustainability—supporting conservation and stewardship efforts, while also helping to meet North America’s growing energy needs in ways that are economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

We’ve donated just under $22,800 to IWRA in support of the Canvasback Corner Nature Store, located within the visitor center. The funds helped to purchase educational materials and have also supported its traveling nature store.


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“When the visitor center hit some construction delays, we took the nature store mobile,” says Van Aken. “We went to as many festivals and markets as possible to give people a taste of what will be in the store once it opens.”

A previous Enbridge grant of $15,000 to the IWRA also helped support establishment of the nature store.

To call the incoming visitor center and nature store “highly anticipated” is an understatement, as these pop-up nature shops, including a holiday-themed store, received markedly high donations in support of educational materials for the visitor center.

In the nature store, visitors will find items such as pottery, artwork and—of course—bird books.

“We are striving to have as much U.S.- and Canada-made product as possible,” says Van Aken.

Beyond the Refuge Gateway, IWRA has a number of other projects in the works, including a natural playscape, funding for archery and fishing interns, and an accessible kayak launch.

“There are so many projects that the refuge needs, and we’re always doing something,” says Van Aken.

“We’re really proud of this effort, having amazing support from so many partners and local communities for the wildlife refuge that will contribute toward a sustainable future for our ecosystems.”

(TOP PHOTO: Sunrise at Pointe Mouilee within the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.)