The Detroit RiverWalk currently runs from Joe Louis Arena (home of the Red Wings) east, past the Renaissance Center to the foot of Mt. Elliott Street. It’s a distance of about 2-1/2 miles. Built of brick and cement, it hugs the Detroit River, making for a nice leisurely stroll or bike ride. It’s especially relaxing when a huge, thousand foot freighter glides silently by, floating atop the river that on most weekend days is filled with pleasure boats. While bicycling along the walk over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that most people confine their visit to the foot of Hart Plaza near downtown, east beyond the Renaissance Center to the merry-go-round near Milliken State Park.
However, there is a lesser visited portion of the RiverWalk that stretches further east of Milliken Park, to the foot of Mt. Elliot and its namesake park. To me, that section is more serene, less crowded and much quieter. In fact, I’m always surprised at the lack of people on that particular stretch. Sure there is a good mix of bicyclists, joggers and a few fishermen, (some out on the break walls jutting into the river) but it’s limited and not many casual walkers visit that end of the walk.
In some ways, the far east end of the RiverWalk is much more interesting. There are newer commercial and residential structures, such as the UAW Headquarters and the Harbortown Condominiums that face the walk. That section also has a nice group of late 19th century buildings right out of Detroit’s early industrial heritage. Along that strip, for example, I’ve passed beautiful old brick structures, such as the former Park-Davis Research Laboratory. This is a National Historic Landmark built in the late 1800s. On that same stretch I’ve seen the vintage 1874 three-story Detroit Lighthouse Depot located next to the U.S. Coast Guard property at Mt. Elliott Street. Also, in the east end area of the RiverWalk are The Iron Street lofts near the river. The lofts are carved out of a former four-story saddle and plumbing manufacturing facility that was constructed in the 1890s.
In addition to the eclectic mix of buildings found along the east end of the RiverWalk, are harbors of refuge and the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The station has supply laden docks, floating rescue boats, overhead boat rigging and buoys lined up like bowling pins. It has an industrial ship building look and feel to it and is remarkably quiet. I’ve bicycled past the riverside station quite a bit, and most of time all I hear is the distinct snapping sound of flags flapping in the breeze or the cry of gulls passing overhead. The calmness of those sounds reflects the feeling I get while cycling along the east end section of the RiverWalk.