People are naturally drawn to water. Whether it’s an annual pilgrimage to the ocean or a big lake or quiet steam, Americans all over the country find water to sit next to or ride on or play in. I am no exception. When my family first moved to Detroit a few years ago, we were looking for an apartment and couldn’t resist a smaller place with a view of the river and Belle Isle. Yes, it helped that my best friends lived in the Warehouse District with a rooftop that overlooked the river. A view from bridge to bridge as they say.
The Detroit Riverwalk is a front yard and a back yard for our family. We see friends and neighbors walk by or ride by. We can sit and watch the birds and boats. As a runner, the Riverwalk is an ideal distance. I often mark my run with various landmarks. The Dequindre Cut is a greenway that offers an alternative route or a connection to Eastern Market. The Milliken State Park Lighthouse stands watch to inspire visitors and guide me home.
Running past the RenCen means seeing the foundation and deciding whether or not to add the steps into the mix. With the Detroit Princess on one side and Cobo Center on the other, it almost feels like running downhill staring into the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge off in the distance. My runs often ended at Joe Louis Arena. The Riverfront goes on to the West Riverfront but The Joe was the perfect spot to turn around. In October, having only run half a marathon, our family and friends gathered to watch the marathoners come down the Riverwalk in the final miles of the Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon. Throughout the other times of the year, a morning run at sunrise offers a unique view of Detroit; because the Riverwalk is open until 10:00 p.m., a cool evening run allows the lights from Windsor, Ontario to guide the way.
It’s not all about running either. There’s something special about how the light moves across the water and the city. Some nights a stillness underscores Detroit’s confidence. Other days the wind and white caps remind me of the city’s edge. Often, no matter what the day represented, there is a moment around sunset for about five minutes when the sun reflects off the MacArthur Bridge and lights it up bright white.
Another thing I love about the Riverfront is the variety of activities through the year. Families from all over Detroit come to fish the river. Standing along the railings outside Joe Louis Arena or at the end of the walkway in front of the Coast Guard post in Mount Elliot park seem to be two popular locations.
Spending time on the Riverwalk also means music. Music takes so many forms on the waterfront. The Roberts Riverwalk Hotel hosts jazz and live music every Thursday all summer from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Chene Park brings in national and local acts throughout the season as well. The area along Atwater is always alive with barbeques and tailgaters when there is a show. Tickets range in price. Slow Roll Detroit and the many Detroiters who just love a long ride along the river would illuminate the walkway with brightly colored bikes and lift the spirits of everyone in their path, often thanks to custom speakers.
The sights and sounds only added to my love for the Riverwalk. Our first few years in Detroit were marked by milestones here. My daughter learned to ride her bike between Roberts Riverwalk Hotel and Harbortown.
When our good friends moved to Detroit, we all went to River Days a few days later to celebrate the fact that we all lived here together. This past winter when it snowed heavily those same friends joined us at the mound across the street from the Outdoor Adventure Center for sledding and even a little irresponsible skiing.
The Detroit Riverwalk is known as a “world-class gathering place for all.” And I can attest. I’ve experienced it. It’s one of the crown jewels of Detroit and can only be experienced. As much as I have tried to give you the hard sell, there is so much more that I have not described. The nature trails and wildlife preserve just beyond the beach volleyball courts and carousel…The fine art installations in Gabriel Richard Park showcasing some of the DIA’s most prized or storied pieces…The events, too numerous to mention, are simply another reason to spend the day or the evening along the Riverwalk.
As I was preparing to write this piece about my love for the Detroit Riverfront, an exciting announcement was made. The West Riverfront, an empty parcel, on West Jefferson where the Riverwalk extends toward the Ambassador Bridge, known as a prime location during the city’s Fourth of July Fireworks display and the host of the MoPop music festival, is being redesigned. On April 10, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy announced the winner of the park project. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates won the development deal to create a new attraction on the West Riverfront.
“It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River,” Van Valkenburgh said in a release. “I immediately recognized that this new park could draw the city to the water’s edge. My team and I spent a lot of time exploring Detroit and meeting many Detroiters in the process. We’re looking forward to making West Riverfront Park an amazing place.”
I’m excited for the next stage of the Riverfront development. The families moving to Detroit will continue to experience what we did and we will continue to make memories on the Riverwalk year-round.
The photos alone spark excitement and inspiration for what the Detroit Riverfront can be:
If you are a long time resident of Detroit, or hoping to visit our city soon, don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time on the Riverwalk and experience a place that welcomes all Detroiters and visitors alike. Time your visit correctly and you can go for a bike ride by renting a bike from Wheelhouse Detroit, hook a striped bass or catch some lively music either from the stage or cruising past on a well-lit bicycle. Whatever activity you choose, make sure you do not miss the Riverwalk the next time you are in Detroit. It truly is a world-class gathering place for all.
What’s your favorite part of the Riverwalk? Let us know in the comments below!