Construction will begin on a new 3-acre play area at  Innovation Hills this September.

Construction will begin on a new 3-acre play area at Innovation Hills this September.

Photos provided by the city of Rochester Hills

Work to begin on Innovation Hills Park playground

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 27, 2020


ROCHESTER HILLS — The community’s first inclusive and accessible playground will take shape at Innovation Hills Park over the next year.

Over the summer, the Rochester Hills City Council unanimously approved construction of a $3.7 million nature-focused, universal design playground at the park, located north of Hamlin Road, east of Adams Road.

“One of the great ways that a city can serve its residents during this particular challenging year of 2020 is to provide places for respite, provide places to socially distance, enjoy nature, create memories and tell stories,” Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said. “Perhaps there is no singular better time in the history of our city where this investment makes more sense.”

Innovation Hills — the city’s first new park in 25 years — which opened to the public in October 2019 with the first phase of the multiyear project complete — included the construction of various lakes, glow-in-the-dark sidewalks, boardwalks and trails in a 110-acre public space.

In September, construction began on phase two, which includes a 3-acre, nature-themed universal play area for youth of all abilities. The playground will include a custom-built multistory treehouse with a locally themed bridge, over 20 unique play elements, two pavilions, a sand play area and a flowing splash river that mimics the course of the actual Clinton River cutting through the park.  

The treehouse will have climbing access from the ground level, but also a unique second story accessed via a bridge from a higher elevation to allow individuals with mobility challenges to enter the treehouse at the second story, without having to climb or crawl.

“It’s gone through almost two years of planning, from landscape architects taking pictures of the city’s historic bebb oak to get some inspiration. The way one of the larger slides comes out of it sort of mimics the long branch that comes off the bebb oak. It’s a custom piece that really feels like Rochester Hills,” the city’s Parks and Natural Resources Director Ken Elwert said.

In Rochester Hills, Lead Arborist Gerry Pink said the city is home to the large oak at Livernois and Auburn roads that the city’s Forestry Division staff identified as a bebb oak, a hybrid between white and bur oaks, due to the shape of the tree’s leaves and the appearance of its acorns. The giant bebb oak is also a symbol in Rochester Hills’ city logo.

One of Barnett’s favorite features of the play area is the flowing river component — which is an exact replica of the Clinton River as it runs through Innovation Hills Park.

“We’re going to take that and move it up to the playground and have a moving water experience where kids and parents will be able to turn on the Clinton River and watch it as it flows throughout the playground, splashing and stepping over it, putting leaves and little paper boats in it, and watching it wind over the bridge and through the different areas, just as it does in real life, just a few 100 yards away,” Barnett said.

This fall, crews will clear vegetation, install concrete pathways, work on some landscaping, lay the playground surfacing, start the flowing river work and install some playground items.

In the spring of 2021, the landscaping will be finished, two pavilions will be completed, the rest of the playground equipment will be installed and the tree house will be completed.

A grand opening is tentatively planned for early summer.

The city’s goal for the playground, according to Barnett, is to be a one-of-a-kind regional attraction, improving the quality of life for all.

“We want this to be one of the finest examples of a play place that is accessible to anyone in Michigan,” Barnett said.

To date, the city has raised approximately $1.1 million for the park.

Innovation Hills Park is a 130-acre public space located north of Hamlin Road, east of Adams Road. The park is free and open to the public 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

To become an Innovation Hills sponsor, contact the mayor’s office at (248) 656-4664. For more information, visit www.rochester