Crews are wrapping up construction on the first phase of Innovation Hills Park in Rochester Hills, which includes glow-in-the-dark pathways, among many other features.

Crews are wrapping up construction on the first phase of Innovation Hills Park in Rochester Hills, which includes glow-in-the-dark pathways, among many other features.

Photo provided by the city of Rochester Hills

Innovation Hills Park receives grant for universal play area

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 18, 2019


ROCHESTER HILLS — Innovation Hills Park, which officials say will include the community’s first inclusive and accessible playground, recently received its largest grant to date.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation awarded $564,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Rochester to support the further development of Innovation Hills Park, a 130-acre public space located north of Hamlin Road, east of Adams Road.

“It’s just a huge investment into this community dream, and we are so grateful for the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation for finding this park to be in alignment with their admirable goals,”  Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said.

The grant will help the city fund a large, nature-themed, universal design play area with inclusive features that are accessible to all children, including those with autism spectrum disorder.

The city’s goal for the 3-acre playground, according to Barnett, is to be a one-of-a-kind regional attraction, improving the quality of life for everyone.

The playground’s main element will be a two-story treehouse and slide, with climbing access from the ground level and a unique second story connected to a bridge accessed from the higher elevation of the playground entrance. City officials said the bridge will allow individuals with mobility challenges to enter the treehouse at the second story without having to climb or crawl. The nearly $2 million playground, which will be constructed next spring, will also contain flowing water, and rock and sand interaction areas.

“This investment will particularly go towards the big part of the development next year, which is the playground development. The almost $2 million universal, barrier-free and accessible playground is going to be something our community has never seen before,” Barnett said.

Another important objective for Innovation Hills Park, according to Barnett, is to promote the park’s accessibility to Michigan’s trail system. The park sits within 1,500 feet of the Clinton River Trail — connected through the city’s pathway system — with a nearby link to the Paint Creek Trail and Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail.

In October 2018, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation announced a commitment of $50 million to support regional trails throughout southeast Michigan, and officials said this grant draws down on that commitment.

James “J.J.” Tighe, the director of the Parks and Trails Initiative at the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, said the foundation was especially interested in supporting Innovation Hills because of its close proximity to the Clinton River Trail and its link to the Paint Creek Trail.

“In addition, the park’s adjacency to the M-59/Adams intersection makes it extremely accessible to tens of thousands of people, many of whom are active users of the city’s park and trail system. The park and its new playground will be a tremendous recreational asset,” Tighe said in a statement.

City officials broke ground on the city’s first new park in 25 years last September, and crews have been constructing the first phase of the multiyear project — which includes the construction of lakes, glow-in-the-dark sidewalks, boardwalks and trails  — ever since.

“What was kind of a grassy, overgrown, invasive-species-filled field is now something pretty special,” Barnett said. “I hope the first section — which will be beautiful and I think our residents will absolutely love — should be done, hopefully, within the next three to four weeks. I look forward to celebrating the opening of Innovation Hills with our community, and we’ll certainly get information out about that as we get around a date. This is going to be something that everyone in Rochester Hills can be really proud of.”  

Work on phase two, which includes construction of the playground and a pavilion facility, will begin in the spring.

“Next year we are going to just add another amazing chapter to the story of the park,” Barnett said.

The overall budget for the park is about $8 million, and Barnett said the city has raised over $2.5 million of the cost to date.

To become an Innovation Hills Park sponsor, contact the Mayor’s Office at (248) 656-4664. For more information, visit