‘A Sterling Christmas,’ other city activities canceled

State orders, rising COVID-19 cases become factors

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 18, 2020

 Families pose for photos in a giant inflatable snow globe at a previous A Sterling Christmas event in Sterling Heights. City officials canceled the event this year due to new state-imposed restrictions and concerns over the COVID-19 virus.

Families pose for photos in a giant inflatable snow globe at a previous A Sterling Christmas event in Sterling Heights. City officials canceled the event this year due to new state-imposed restrictions and concerns over the COVID-19 virus.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights’ official holiday traditions will be mostly on hold this year, as local and state officials grapple with increases in COVID-19 cases.

On Nov. 16, Sterling Heights city officials reportedly decided to cancel their premier holiday event, A Sterling Christmas. In prior years, the event has been one of the city’s most-attended public gatherings.

In addition, the city’s tree lighting ceremony will be canceled, though the city plans to hold a virtual lighting via Facebook Dec. 1. Both events were canceled due to “limited capacity for outdoor events.”

The city is also canceling a Dec. 10 Senior Center Christmas Concert and a Dec. 19 Nature Center Illuminated Walk.

In a statement, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said that, while the holiday season cancellations might be “frustrating and inconvenient,” the city must consider infection trends as well as people’s safety.

“Since limiting contact with others continues to be the only effective defense to the spread of COVID-19, we feel these temporary changes are our best bet at reversing the current trend and preventing further spread of the virus,” he said.

“As always, we can’t thank our residents enough for their ongoing patience and cooperation during these unprecedented times. Between now and the end of the year, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and update residents when normal operations can resume.”

On Nov. 15, the state of Michigan tightened restrictions effective Nov. 18 on some businesses and gatherings following daily coronavirus counts that were exceeding 7,000 or even 8,000 cases in a single day. The state specified in its announcement that the action was “not a blanket stay-home action like in the spring” and that “outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open.”

Originally, Sterling Heights was planning to invite a select number of pre-registered residents to join in its A Sterling Christmas festivities Dec. 4-5 at Dodge Park in a socially distanced way. Kyle Langlois, the city’s parks and recreation director, said organizers had originally planned to hold four different A Sterling Christmas sessions, with each timeslot being open to around 500 pre-registered participants.

“Our focus, really, for this year has been to make certain that we are providing opportunities that allow for proper social distancing, allow for lower levels of staff, lower levels of touch points,” Langlois said prior to the cancellation.

Even under the scrapped, modified version of the event, festivalgoers would have had a more experiential and less hands-on role in the event, Langlois explained. Hot chocolate and cookies would have been replaced with pre-wrapped cookies and cartons of milk. The petting farm, pony rides and carousel would have been gone, but organizers had planned to put ice carvings on display for the public to appreciate, he explained.

Langlois added that Santa would have read stories such as “The Night Before Christmas” and “The Polar Express” instead of visiting with kids. But those plans are no longer in place — at least as a public event.

“The emergency order does not allow for public gatherings or more than 25 outside, so it was a very easy decision,” Langlois said via text message. “It doesn’t make it easier, given the circumstances of 2020, but curbing COVID-19 has to remain a top priority. We will be ready to get back to providing great events in 2021.”

Despite the nixing of this year’s A Sterling Christmas, the city still plans to decorate Dodge Park and the median along Utica Road with lights “so there will still be plenty of holiday cheer,” Langlois said. And a backup plan could make the Santa story time a virtual event, he added.


Non-Christmas activities altered too
On Nov. 17, Sterling Heights made additional changes to its programming in light of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ order. The city’s changes were effective Nov. 18, and they are set to last until Jan. 3 of next year.

City Hall will be open to residents weekdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m. Residents should try to do what they can from home, if possible, by visiting sterling-heights.net/athomeservices. After the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, the council will hold its meetings virtually for the rest of 2020.

The Sterling Heights Police Department’s front desk will still take residents’ reports “with a limited capacity.” The 41-A District Court will conduct activities that must happen in person but, otherwise, isn’t open to the public.

The Sterling Heights Public Library will keep doing its curbside and digital services, and it will only do virtual programming activities. The Sterling Heights Nature Center will invite only five people per appointment time slot.

However, the city says the Community Center and Senior Center will close Nov. 18-Dec. 8, though staff will still reply to emails and the phone. Activity registration will take place via myshpr.net by emailing recreation@ster ling-heights.net, or via fax or snail mail. The city will refund or credit people for canceled activities.

The Parks and Recreation Department also announced that the Sterling Heights Youth Basketball League is done for the season, though organizers hope to do instruction in January.  

Within the parks, basketball courts at Dodge and Farmstead parks will be cordoned off, as will Dodge Park’s minisoccer field and the Richard J. Notte Sterling Heights City Center’s skatepark.

One amenity that the city says it is still is planning to have is the Dodge Park ice rink, starting Dec. 1. Although the state lists “skating rinks” as a prohibited gathering in its recent emergency order, Langlois said in a text message, “Our interpretation is that the rink is OK to open since it is outdoors and consistent with outdoor recreation allowances.”

“Since it is a staffed facility, we can properly monitor face coverings and promote proper social distancing,” he explained. “We are currently seeking clarification from the state and legal, but moving forward with opening plans until we hear otherwise.”

When the ice rink opens, the city said, participants will need to register in advance, since capacity will be cut to 22 per timeslot. Skaters will need to bring their own skates, wear masks and sign a waiver —parents/guardians must sign it for a minor. Learn more about the skating time slot schedule by visiting www.myshpr.net or by calling (586) 446-2700.

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