A sure sign of summer in Detroit: water flowing through James Scott Memorial Fountain

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The lighting of the Christmas Tree in Campus Martius in November, the sounds of engines cruising down Woodward each summer, and watching the water rush through the James Scott Memorial Fountain every spring are all events that Detroiters look forward to each year. This year will mark the eighth year that DTE Energy employee Robert Carpenter will command the switches, pumps and valves to ensure that the iconic fountain is flowing again on Belle Isle.

Carpenter is a manager of data quality at DTE but has a background in electrical engineering. When Carpenter first started working on the fountain back in 2007, it was in a state of disrepair.

“The water was green and the fountain was red with rust,” Carpenter said, along with describing it as a “swamp-land.”

While he was originally tasked to just clean up the fountain, his background and dedication to fixing things lead to a nearly decade-long journey to restore the fountain. Even after various setbacks throughout the years – thieves stealing the brass lighting, pipes bursting throughout the winter, a three-year hiatus – since 2012, Carpenter has returned every spring.

Before cars race around the track for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Carpenter and fellow DTE employee Nolan Serafin, along with a host of other DTE Energy employees and interns, begin the countless hours of prep and maintenance that is needed to get the fountain flowing 50 feet in the air. There are no operating instructions or blueprints; all the learning has been on the fly and as they flip switches, turn valves, and open drains to determine what they control, they have begun to understand all the splendor this 92-year-old jewel has to offer. It’s a splendor appreciated not only by engineers, however Carpenter has enlisted others to turn on the fountain, and described their reactions as like “kids in a candy store.”

Carpenter said, “It’s the most unusual thing—when people see the water or hear the water, they just migrate to it.”

In fact, it’s not so unusual after all. In the Belle Isle Summary Presentation of January 21, 2016, the fountain was listed as the most visited out of all the attractions on Belle Isle. Additionally, this year will mark the first year that the fountain will be accessible to more people during the Grand Prix; something that Carpenter has been advocating for and is pleased to see finally happen.

The Detroit Grand Prix will be held on June 2-4, but the James Scott Memorial Fountain will be open all summer for everyone with a state parks pass to enjoy.

Thank you Sasha Strait, DTE Energy co-op, for your help with this post.