Dodge Park is packed at the bridge that crosses the Clinton River on a sunny day May 30.

Dodge Park is packed at the bridge that crosses the Clinton River on a sunny day May 30.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Parks promise alternative fun despite Sterlingfest cancellation

Splash pad likely to remain closed all summer

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 5, 2020

 Kayakers paddle along the Clinton River through the Dodge Park area right before crossing under the bridge.

Kayakers paddle along the Clinton River through the Dodge Park area right before crossing under the bridge.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Gary Luckett, of St. Clair Shores, practices his guitar and sings while Cindi Baine, also of St. Clair Shores, listens next to him in Dodge Park.

Gary Luckett, of St. Clair Shores, practices his guitar and sings while Cindi Baine, also of St. Clair Shores, listens next to him in Dodge Park.

Photo by Deb Jacques


STERLING HEIGHTS — Although Sterling Heights recently decided to cancel its biggest summer event of the year, playtime will not be completely canceled in the city this summer, according to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The city announced in May that it had canceled its biggest event of the year, the Sterlingfest Art and Music Fair. The event was supposed to happen July 23-25. It was supposed to be the event’s 39th annual occurrence, and this year marked the first time the event has ever been canceled.

The inability to socially distance people was cited as a reason. Normally, Sterlingfest has about 125,000 visitors over its three-day run, according to officials. Food, music, concerts, carnival rides and art for sale are the event’s main attractions.

The 2020 festival had planned to host some mainstream names in music, and the headliners were the Simply Queen tribute band Plain White T’s and Lou Gramm, the Original Voice of Foreigner & Asia featuring John Payne. Meanwhile, the city said it is weighing making this year’s planned Sterlingfast 5K race a virtual one instead.

During a June 2 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool commented on the cancellation.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever had to cancel Sterlingfest in its history,” Vanderpool said. “Obviously, it was not an easy decision, but at the end of the day, the safety of all the participants, including vendors and all the volunteers and so on, prevailed over the celebratory event. … The good news is, all the artists have agreed to extend their contracts for the following year.”

Stacy Ziarko, the president and CEO of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is disappointed that Sterlingfest had to cancel, even knowing her staff understands why it had to happen.

“It was a sad day for all of us,” she said. “It was inevitable that we needed to cancel. It’s a large hit to a large number of businesses. ... We’ll do everything we can, and we’re looking really forward to 2021.”

The pandemic’s other effects
Besides the cancellation of Sterlingfest, Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois lamented other fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, he called the brand-new community center’s closure, which has lasted over a couple of months, “certainly disappointing” because it happened so soon after its Feb. 29 grand opening.

“We had 18 months of construction and anticipation, and after 10 days of being open and kind of starting to build momentum, we lost it,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but it certainly was the right thing to do.”

Langlois said that when the community center reopens, it’s going to be at a slower pace because the building is preparing to provide programs and services that can be done safely. Event pre-registration will guard against exceeding capacity, and people will be properly distanced from one another, he said. He hopes that programming that can still work include fitness and dance classes.

As far as other programming goes, Langlois said his department has been changing gears.

“We know we’ve had to cancel a lot of very popular events and programs,” he said. “We’ve retooled our operations. … Over the next couple of months, 20 or 30 new programs will come through this.”

Langlois said the Parks and Recreation Department hopes to offer alternative events, such as virtual bingo and trivia contests. Recreation programs that could become possible include scavenger hunts, kite crafting, competitive video games and art courses, officials said.

A virtual summer camp will let families pick up craft supplies that they can do at home, as well as play interactive games and interact with camp staff and participants.

The city plans to run alternative events that can be done in vehicles, such as a car show, a road rally and a drive-in flick with a laser light show. A Clinton River kayak race is in the works, officials added.

Parks reopen amenities
As for the city’s 31 parks and green spaces, parks staff said they reopened all playgrounds. Officials announced that some baseball fields are open at Beaver Creek, Hampton, Mark Sawyers and Wolf parks. In addition, many pickleball and tennis nets have been reinstalled.

Basketball, soccer, sand volleyball and inline hockey playing areas won’t be reopened until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ushers in Phase 5 of her reopening plan, the city said. Pavilion rentals are expected to make a comeback in Phase 5, hopefully around mid-July, they added.

“All of our plans are still based on the directives that we’re going to get from the governor moving forward,” Langlois explained. “While we hope to have everything open in Phase 5 again, as they put qualifiers on there, it may be tough to reopen to some of our activities.”

However, at press time, Langlois still believed that the splash pad would stay closed this summer due to a “number of reasons,” including the practical inability to socially distance.

Langlois added that the parks department has recently reopened the canoe and kayak paddle landings. The park restrooms have been reopened, though they will be closed for a short period of time mid-day for a disinfecting process.

“Normally, they would just get cleaned at night,” he said. “We are adding a second cleaning during the day.”

Park officials warned users to abide by social distancing, mask wearing and regular hand washing or sanitizer application.

Despite the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, Langlois said people have used the last couple of months to take advantage of stepping outside to use the parks and trails, which was allowed as long as people practiced social distancing and kept out of certain areas like playgrounds, basketball courts and pavilions.

“Anecdotally, we probably saw our largest crowds in March and April that certainly I’ve ever seen in my career of being a department head for Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation,” he said. “We saw more people on bikes, walking, running, than I’ve ever seen, even along the sidewalks going along Utica Road.”

Farmers Market, ‘Pints’ to return
The Dodge Park Farmers Market was declared closed this spring through June, but the department has now announced a July 9 reopening, with weekly openings on Thursdays through Sept. 24. The farmers market will feature “essential food vendors” and will be open in limited capacity in conformance with the state’s guidelines, Langlois said.

“We won’t have live entertainment,” he said. “It’s basically the opportunity for our residents and patrons to connect with the farmers and the food vendors as they have had in the past and continue to support the local economy (through buying) fresh, locally grown produce.”

Langlois said the city’s annual Music in the Park summer concert series has been nixed due to social distancing concerns. However, the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce says it will continue its summer Patios ‘n’ Pints tradition in a revised way. The weekly craft beer events will occur on Thursday evenings July 16-Aug. 27, chamber President and CEO Stacy Ziarko said.

“Things will look a little different,” Ziarko said. “It will be a ticketed event so we can maintain the crowds. It will be on the farmers market’s side of Dodge Park.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2700. Learn more about the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce by visiting or by calling (586) 731-5400.