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October 9, 2019

Community Groups Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Rouge River Fire & Break Ground for New Fort Street Bridge Park

Today, the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR) and the Fort-Rouge Gateway Coalition (FRoG) will commemorate the historic Rouge River fire of 1969 with the groundbreaking of the new Fort Street Bridge Interpretive Park, located at the foot of the Fort Street Bridge, in Detroit.

On October 9, 1969, near the Rouge Plant and Zug Island, sparks from an acetylene torch ignited oil and wooden debris in the Rouge River, sending 50-ft. flames into the air near the Rouge Plant and Zug Island. The burning river symbolized the peak of societal indifference to pollution and was accepted as the cost of doing business at the time.

Fifty years later, through collaborative political, municipal, non-profit, business and private efforts, the Rouge River transformed from a health hazard to a regional asset.

“That historic Rouge fire became a catalyst for the transformation of the entire watershed,” said Marie McCormick, executive director of Friends of the Rouge. “It drew local, regional and national attention and inspired transformational legislation, such as the Clean Water Act of 1972 led by the late Congressman John D. Dingell. Today, we celebrate the work that has been done to clean and restore the river that helps enhance communities throughout the entire watershed.”

Prior to the Rouge River fire, on March 7, 1932, during the Great Depression, auto workers organized a march from Detroit to the Ford Rouge Factory, in Dearborn. Known as the Ford Hunger March, the event is one of the most significant activities in the creation of the United Auto Workers union.


“The historic Fort Street Bridge, central to the march, was decommissioned in 2013, and a new bridge has taken its place,” said Shawn Pomaville-Size, executive director, MotorCities National Heritage Area. “A group of community partners called the Fort Rouge Gateway Partnership Committee or ‘FRoG’, have worked to ensure the history of the Hunger March, the significance of the former bridge and its importance to the region would be recognized within this new Fort Street Bridge Park.  We see the new park as a first step in transforming a neglected urban space into an experiential gateway that interprets the history of labor, industry and the environment, while creating equitable access to green space.”


Plans for the park include a sculpture, kayak launch, boardwalk, rain garden, and a walking path symbolizing the renewed health and viability of the Rouge River and regional commitment to the environment.

MotorCities National Heritage Area, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, City of Detroit, City of Dearborn, Marathon Petroleum Co. LP, Michigan Department of Transportation, United Auto Workers Local 600, Friends of the Rouge, Friends of the Detroit River, various neighborhood block groups, PEA Inc. and others collaborated to build this park.