Work will begin immediately to bring the vision on the sketches to life at  Innovation Hills Park in Rochester Hills.

Work will begin immediately to bring the vision on the sketches to life at Innovation Hills Park in Rochester Hills.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Rochester Hills breaks ground on Innovation Hills

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 11, 2018


ROCHESTER HILLS — Construction on the city’s first new park in 25 years is now underway in Rochester Hills.

Community leaders officially broke ground on the 130-acre Innovation Hills Park, located north of Hamlin Road, east of Adams Road, Aug. 30.

“We are thrilled to be here for a very exciting day in the history of Rochester Hills,” Mayor Bryan Barnett said. “This is an important day for our city because this is really the first new park that we’ve developed in our city in over 25 years — a major investment in the quality of life in our residents and in this particular area of town.”

The beginning: Riverbend Park
The park was originally founded in 1991 when the city purchased the property — which contains over 100 acres of undeveloped woodlands, wetlands and prairie habitat, two small lakes, and a portion of the Clinton River.

“Initially named Riverbend Park, what we acquired was really a blank canvas — an open book and an opportunity for us to create, dream and believe that this could be something bigger than it already was. An opportunity for us to leave a legacy for the residents of this community well into the future,” Barnett said.

In 2012, a partnership with Lawrence Technological University staff and students created a unique plan for the park, which garnered attention from city officials and residents, resulting in a private $1 million donation from the Steve and Vivian Stolaruk Foundation.

In 2014, Barnett said, the Mayors Institute on City Design conceptualized even more thoughtful and creative ideas for the design of the park, which has continued to evolve over the years.

Looking to the future: Innovation Hills Park
In May of 2017, the park was renamed Innovation Hills to avoid confusion with the eight other parks in southeast Michigan that are currently named Riverbend.

“What we are creating today is an eco-park consisting of woods, waterfalls, wetland overlooks, sensory gardens, over 4 miles of trails — both paved and rustic — scenic pond vistas and a large, unique natural elements playground never seen before in our region,” Barnett said.

A series of ponds and waterfalls will greet park patrons upon entry and will serve as a focal point at Innovation Hills Park. John and Mary Modetz, owners of Potere-Modetz Funeral Home in Rochester, made a financial contribution to the park to fund the waterfall construction. City officials said the ponds and waterfalls will flow under two walkways and will serve as a bioswale and recreational experience, allowing people to watch, listen to and touch the moving water as they enter Innovation Hills.

The park’s 5,000-square-foot sensory garden, funded by a $40,000 grant from Scotts Miracle-Gro, will comprise two different green spaces. An area designed by Hamlin Elementary School students and teachers will focus on elements of ecology — including growing native plants, examining soil erosion and studying pollination — while a professionally designed area will serve as a recreational sensory garden and will feature a playground.

Innovation Hills will include the region’s largest universally accessible play area, funded by a donation by the Moceri family. The playground, according to city officials, will provide a welcoming, comfortable and innovative environment for children and adults of all ages and abilities. The design will integrate natural materials like logs, dirt, tree stumps, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges and streams.

“The play area is not going to be like anything you have ever seen,” Barnett said.

The park’s design plan includes over 4 miles of woodland and boardwalk trails — some illuminated by solar glow path pavers — two ponds, a gazebo, a water wall, a sundial, a kayak landing pad on the Clinton River, a community gathering space, shelters, overlooks, observation points and more.

To date, over $1 million has been raised for the development of the park. Barnett acknowledged the support the city has received from the state of Michigan through a $500,000 Talent and Economic Development grant. He also recognized the Steve and Vivian Stolaruk Foundation, Chief Financial Credit Union, the Modetz family, the Moceri family, the Brooksie Way, and Hamlin Tool & Machine for supporting the initial development of the park.

Rochester Hills City Council President Mark Tisdel said the council has also committed $4.5 million for the project over the next four or five years.

“This is a bold and creative and innovative idea,” he said. “The City Council is 100 percent behind this effort … and we will see this through to its fruition.”

The city plans to host a ribbon cutting for the park next year.

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