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Rouge River...Partnership for the Future

The following information is excerpted from the Rouge River Partnership for the Future brochure. For additional information or to request a free copy of this brochure, contact the Rouge River Information Hotline at (888) 223-2363.


Partnership Information

The History

(Photo-Caption: Powerhouse of the Ford Estate - Fair Lane)

The Rouge River always has played a major role in the development of its surrounding environment. The region’s original mixture of heavy forest and upland prairies supported Native American Peoples. The Potawatomi Indians were among the first inhabitants to take advantage of this region's rich soils and abundance of fur-bearing animals. The river itself was called "Minosa Goink," which means "Singeing Skin River," as this was the place where game animals were dressed.

The French settled the Rouge Corridor in the 1700's. French settlers would claim a few hundred feet of river frontage and extend their farms deep into the forest. Remnants of these "Ribbon Farms" still exist in metropolitan Detroit today. The population grew as new immigrants became aware of the region's agricultural and industrial potential.

Rapid urban growth and industrial development characterized the early 20th century. Henry Ford purchased extensive land tracts and built a farm tractor factory in Dearborn. He started construction of a permanent residence in 1914. The Ford Estate - Fair Lane, was situated at a bend in the River along a Native American trail, now Fair Lane Road. Ford hired renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen to design and develop the grounds.

When Jensen embarked on this prestigious commission, the native landscape was no longer recognizable. Jensen worked at reforesting much of the site and introduced elements of his own prairie style design. Jensen also worked with Ford on plans for the development of Historic Greenfield Village.

The construction of the Ford Rouge Complex during World War I proved to be a defining moment in the river’s history. This facility grew into the largest industrial complex in the world with support industries up and down the adjacent riverbanks.

Industrial development waned in the second half of the 20th century; although manufacturing remains a major land use at the lower end of the corridor. New uses have evolved along the River's recently channelized section. These include office parks, senior housing, a golf course and recreation center. The banks of the Rouge River are also home to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Henry Ford Community College, and The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction.

This historic river corridor and its bountiful resources represent an important slice of American heritage. Yet, exciting new developments continue to emerge. The Rouge River Gateway Partnership is exploring solutions to restore the vibrancy of the area's natural landscape while preserving the legacy of the automobile manufacturing industry.


The Momentum

The Rouge River Gateway Partnership is the primary stakeholder group leading the effort for environmentally responsible redevelopment within the Lower Rouge Corridor.

Under the leadership of the first co-chairs Edward Bagale, Vice Chancellor, Government Relations, University of Michigan-Dearborn and James Murray, Director of Wayne County Department of Environment, this group has made great strides in achieving their goals.

This group initiated a detailed master plan in coordination with the Rouge Program Office. Funding was made available through stakeholder donations and the Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project. Exciting proposals for improvements include:

The Ford Rouge Visitor Center: This adaptive reuse for part of the Ford Rouge center will create an interpretive venue that will be the first stop on the Automobile National Heritage Area Tour. Ford Motor Company is working with experts in the field of "green" industrial development to explore creative concepts for this project and the remodeling of the entire Ford Rouge center.

Riverfront Park in Melvindale: The City of Melvindale is planning a park along the river next to its municipal ice arena. Concepts include improved public boat access to the river and amenities to support "Riverfest" events.

Oxbow Restoration: The original path of a former river oxbow has been restored at Greenfield Village. This habitat enhancement project provides fish resting and breeding areas, in addition to furnishing Greenfield Village with a new island for program development. The Wildlife Habitat Council provided consulting assistance for this effort through funding by the Ford Motor Company.

Non-Motorized Trail: Plans are being developed for a number of pedestrian/bikeway paths that connect regional attractions on the Rouge River and to the existing path along Edward Hines Drive. Ultimately, this Greenway is intended to reach the Detroit River and link adjacent neighborhoods. Construction of Phase I of the Rouge Gateway Greenway will begin in summer 2003.

Channelized River Restoration: Work is underway with the Army Corps of Engineers to investigate opportunities for removal of portions of the concrete channel. The re-naturalization of the river’s banks will enhance aquatic life habitat and greatly improve the river’s appearance.

Rouge River Cruise Tours: The feasibility of a ferry boat system is being explored. As the Great Lakes Cruise ships become a reality, the Rouge River will provide an entry foyer to new and existing tourist destinations.

The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project. Since its inception, the Rouge Project has provided funds and technical assistance to eliminate combined sewer overflows, involve community groups and implement strategies and best management practices to reduce storm water and other nonpoint source pollution to the river. Water quality has improved within the Gateway Corridor to the point where dissolved oxygen levels are now at least 5 mg. per liter during dry weather. This condition meets or exceeds the State of Michigan’s water quality standards.


Rouge River Gateway Partnership Information

The Rouge River Gateway Partnership is a collaborative effort among county government, corporations, local communities and academic and cultural institutions. The Gateway membership area is located between the confluence of the Upper and Middle Rouge tributaries and the Detroit River. The purpose of the Partnership is to provide a forum through which a consensus approach can be implemented for the revitalization of the Rouge River.

Goals of the partnership are:

To celebrate our heritage as the birthplace of manufacturing through the support and promotion of high quality, environmental and historic restoration projects.

To encourage implementation of best management practices that provide air, land, wildlife habitat and water quality improvements.

To support the efforts of our local communities in creating unique, educationally significant recreational opportunities.

To attract new public and private investment within the region by building on the synergy of the Partnership.

To expand on existing programs that establish the area as a world-class center for cultural and heritage tourism.

To achieve these goals, the Partnership will:

Promote and support the next generation of environmental and business practices that lead to sustainable manufacturing for the 21st century.

Promote and support projects that improve the quality of life and recreational opportunities in our communities.

Coordinate efforts with the Automobile National Heritage Area Partnership.

A master plan for the Gateway Corridor of the Rouge Watershed will serve as a guide to maximize recreation potential, reestablish river wildlife habitat and preserve the region’s rich historical heritage. The "new" Rouge River will be a national example of how an urban river can be transformed from a polluted waterway to a natural resource that is a valuable asset in our communities.

Our Mission

To create a national model for redevelopment of historic, industrial communities and an urban river through public/private partnerships.

Rouge River Gateway Partnership Members

City of Allen Park
City of Dearborn
City of Detroit
City of Melvindale
DTE Energy
Edward C. Levy Company
Ford Motor Company
Henry Ford Community College
The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction
Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC
Rouge Steel Company
University of Michigan-Dearborn
Wayne County

Support Agencies

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Rouge Program Office
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5

For additional information please contact Partnership Co-chairmen:

Edward J. Bagale
Vice Chancellor
Government Relations
The University of Michigan-Dearborn
(313) 593-5140

Kelly Cave
Water Quality Management Division
Wayne County Department of Public Services
(313) 224-8282

Rouge Gateway Partnership Brochure

Last Updated: 4/26/03

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The Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project is funded, in part, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Grants #XP995743-01, -02, -03, -04, -05, -06, -07, -08, -09 and C-264000-01.