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Oakland County still among the top in population growth amidst state's 83 counties

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Oakland County’s Lyon Township outpaced all but four Michigan communities in population growth since 2010.

According to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau’s data, the township, which was among the state’s top five fastest-growing communities from 2010 through 2017, increased its population by 36.6 percent since 2010, or 5,310 residents. The southwest county community grew 804 residents between 2016 and 2017, the latest data available from the Census.

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Royal Oak brings quirky charm to streets with 9 old pianos

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It can happen to the nicest of old pianos — to be suddenly disowned, then consigned to oblivion.

But how lucky for nine discarded uprights, getting a new lease on life in downtown Royal Oak.

Granted, they’re homeless — they’ll spend the summer outdoors. But each will have just enough overhead protection to stay dry, in reasonable tune and ready for street play, night or day, said Jason Gittinger, a former rock 'n' roll drummer who chairs the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts.

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They're big, they're bold, they're baaaack

More than 40 lifelike animatronic dinosaurs that snarl and move – and some that spit – have taken up residence at the Detroit Zoo to provide a mega-dose of Vitamin Z for visitors of all ages.  Dinosauria, presented by Children’s Hospital of Michigan, runs May 25 through Sept. 3, 2018.  The blockbuster summer attraction – the largest outdoor dinosaur exhibit of its kind in the country – was last featured at the Zoo in 2015.

Visitors enter a veritable “zoorassic world” as they travel back in time along a lush, winding, 3-acre DinoTrail recreating prehistoric life.  The enormous creatures lurk at every turn, including adult dinosaurs, youngsters and even a nest with eggs and hatchlings.  The robotic dinosaurs are built on steel frames and covered with foam rubber skin painted in intricate detail.  High-tech electronics and air pistons power the dinosaurs’ menacing claws and gnashing teeth while a sound system gives them their “voices”.

Dinosauria is open daily through Labor Day, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 8 p.m. Wednesdays in July and August).  Tickets are $6 with Detroit Zoo admission for visitors ages 2 and older and are available at main admissions, the Dinosauria ticket booth or online.

A dino dig site and fossil-sifting station give budding paleontologists the opportunity to search for clues about the lives of dinosaurs.  Kids can also build a dinosaur from magnetic parts.  Knowledgeable volunteer DinoGuides are stationed along the DinoTrail where guests can examine dinosaur skulls, teeth, claws and other biofacts.

The DinoStore at the DinoTrail’s exit is stocked with dinosaur-themed T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, games, gifts and other tempting remembrances to help visitors take the Dinosauria experience home.

The prehistoric adventure continues at the Wild Adventure Zone in the Ford Education Center.  Featured at the 4-D Theater is “Sea Monsters 4-D: A Prehistoric Adventure”, a 15-minute movie that takes audiences back 82 million years for a look at the sea’s most dangerous predators.  “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – The Ride” at the Simulator Ride finds the sub-zero heroes from the worldwide blockbuster venturing into a mysterious underground world after Sid the sloth stumbles across three abandoned dinosaur eggs and decides to raise the hatchlings as his own. Tickets for both experiences are $5 with Detroit Zoo admission and are available at main admissions, the Wild Adventure Zone ticket booth or online.

OU English professor wins national writing contest

Oakland University English Professor Kathleen Pfeiffer, of Rochester Hills, has been named a winner of the 2018 Michigan Writers Cooperative Press (MWCP) Chapbook Competition for her newly published memoir, Ink. The annual competition features submissions from writers throughout the U.S., with winners receiving publication and marketing support. 

Composed of three essays, Ink is an artfully woven tapestry of emotions and events, drawing on personal recollections and historical research. In it, Pfeiffer chronicles memories of her brother Gerry, who died at age 11 after a seven-month battle with brain cancer.

Pfeiffer, who was 13 at the time, looks back at her younger self as she grappled with issues of grief, loss, faith and hope.

“I wrote this as a way to make meaning out of loss, and to take an experience of grief and turn it into an opportunity for growth and empowerment,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s also a story about particular times and particular places – what it’s like growing up in the late ‘70s and going to college in the mid-‘80s, and also what it’s like trying to forge a career as a writer and professor during the time I’m in now.”

In recent years, Pfeiffer has devoted much of her time to studying memoirs and teaching classes focused on the genre. She used her knowledge and experience to craft Ink, which she describes as her first significant work of creative nonfiction.

As part of her research for the book, Pfeiffer revisited pop culture of the time, reviewed yearbooks, cards and notes, and consulted with friends and family. She also searched archives of newspapers from the Connecticut town where she grew up.

“I wanted to check my memories and reconstruct what day-to-day life was like back then,” Pfeiffer explained. 

Chapbook competition judge Melissa Grunow called Ink a “refreshing and hopeful remastering of the grief memoir (that) will resonate with anyone seeking explanations for the unexplainable and closure for the heartache that never stops hurting.”

Pfeiffer sees the book as an example of how people can use their past to bring new, more constructive, meaning to their present.

“You don’t have to be stuck in a story that no longer suits you,” she said. “It’s possible to construct a different story about your past as you go through life and to revise the meaning of your personal history in order to move forward.”

Pfeiffer will be honored on June 10, at a public reading and reception at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Her book is available at Amazon.com.

Ink in performance

Oakland University Dance Professors Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz created a dance version of Ink, with their dance company, Take Root. To view a performance, click here. 

Family Grand Adventures planned in Oakland County Parks

Oakland County Parks and Recreation has planned “Grand Adventures” for grandparents, parents and children this summer.

“Grand Adventures is a great intergenerational program for families to get outside and explore their favorite Oakland County Parks and discover new ones,” Brandy Boyd, Chief of Recreation Programs and Services, said.The program is designed for quality family time exploring parks, finding new adventures and spending the summer making amazing memories.”

The Grand Adventures guide book will be available at Oakland County Parks and area senior centers.  The booklet includes information on activities and events throughout the parks system. It enables users to track their “grand” times, checking off parks as they visit and sharing memories in a special section. Various parks and events will provide stickers and Selfie Stations as well as a stamp in the booklet to commemorate their times together.

Grand Adventures participants are encouraged to visit as many Oakland County Parks as possible throughout summer. The program will culminate in a special play day on Grandparents Day, Sunday, Sept. 9, from 1-4 p.m. at Waterford Oaks County Park. Checked-off activities booklet holders will receive a special coin for a prize.

For information on other events, visit OaklandCountyParks.com. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Snap into summer with the annual Pics of the Parks Photo Contest

Oakland County Parks and Recreation invites park visitors to capture and share their park experiences in the annual Pics of the Parks Photo Contest.

Submitted photos must fall into a PARK’D category: Parks, Artistic, Recreation, Kids, Dogs. All photos must be taken within the 13 Oakland County Parks with a limit of two entries per category. Entries must be submitted via email per the official rules.  An entry form is required. The entry form and official rules can be found on OaklandCountyParks.com/Get Involved. Photos can be taken in any season but can only be submitted between May 28 and Sept. 3

Photos will be judged by members of the Oakland Camera Club with the winners announced by Oct. 13. A Best of Show will be awarded, along with first, second, third and honorable mention winners in each PARKS category. The Best of Show photo will appear on the cover of the 2018 Oakland County Parks Annual Report

The top six entries (Best of Show and first place in each category) receive a mounted print of their entry. The print will be displayed at Wint Nature Center in Independence Oaks County Park in Clarkston from mid-October through mid-December. All entries and winners will be displayed on OaklandCountyParks.SmugMug.com

“Pics of the Parks Photo Contest is a celebration of the faces and places that make up Oakland County Parks,” Executive Officer Dan Stencil said. “This contest gives us the opportunity to see our parks through the eyes of our visitors and provides guests a way to visually share their experiences. Last year, 46 photographers entered 146 images in the contest. The photos get better and better each year.”

Information about the 13 Oakland County Parks locations, special events and recreation opportunities are available at OaklandCountyParks.com. Normal park entry and admission fees to access the parks are required.

For information on other events, visit OaklandCountyParks.com. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Foreign investment is focus as economic development teams head to Washington D.C. and Germany

Oakland County economic developers are hoping to give the county’s sizable international business presence a boost as they head to the 2018 SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C. and Germany in search of new businesses.


Irene Spanos, the county’s director of economic development, leads a team that is attending SelectUSA, a three-day event that promotes foreign direct investment in the United States beginning Tuesday. While Spanos and her team are in Washington, business development representative Charlene Page will be in Germany at Global Connect Stuttgart 2018 and later in Frankfort, selling auto suppliers and others on the benefits of landing in Oakland County.


“Oakland County has made a name for itself globally as a preferred business destination,” County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “We’ve had direct foreign investment of more than $56 million from our relationship with SelectUSA and we’re working on 25 more leads. These are companies headquartered outside the United States and so far, this year, we’ve attracted nearly $47 million of foreign investment from eight countries, bringing more than 900 jobs. We truly have an international business community.”


Oakland County continues to be among the top destinations in the United States for foreign direct investment. More than $1.2 billion of foreign direct investment has been made in the county in the past four years, including $305 million in 2017. The hope is that more international firms will soon be coming, joining the 1,100 international firms from 39 countries having business locations here.


Spanos has 16 meetings scheduled with automakers; aerospace, medical device and robotics companies who have expressed an interest in meeting with Oakland County. The companies are from France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan and Switzerland.


SelectUSA attracts more than 2,000 attendees from economic development organizations as well as domestic and international firms from 42 countries, service providers, media and senior administration and government officials, including U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross as well as other cabinet members.

President Barack Obama attended the summit in 2015 and 2016. President Donald Trump may attend this year, Spanos said.


More than 40 countries are expected at SelectUSA, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Oakland County is focusing on automotive, aerospace, information technology, medical devices and industrial machining/robotics. The Summit is described as the highest profile event in the country dedicated to promoting foreign investment in the U.S.


Spanos is a member of the U.S. Investment Advisory Council, which offers counsel to the secretary on ways to make the country more attractive for foreign direct investment.


In 2015, Spanos was appointed to the Foreign Direct Investment Frontlines Coalition – an economic development steering committee created by the Washington, D.C.-based Organization for International Investment.


Oakland County has gained national attention because of its foreign business footprint. About two foreign firms a month – on average – opened new business locations or expanded existing facilities in Oakland County in 2017.


On June 27, Patterson will be hosting a delegation from the Torino (Italy) Chamber of Commerce.


Volunteers, winter event win state honors

Service to others is the theme three winners of the 2018 mParks (Michigan Recreation and Park Association) Community Service Awards have in common. Oakland County Parks and Recreation nominated the Fire & Ice Festival, The Daisy Project- MI and volunteer Steve Stolaruk for the awards that recognize events, programs, groups and individuals that provide recreation and service to others.

Fire & Ice Festival

The Oakland County-Executive Office, Rochester Downtown Development Authority, Rochester and Oakland County Parks and Recreation collaborate annually to host the Fire & Ice Festival, a winter celebration in downtown Rochester. In its 10th year, the three-day community affair was Friday, Jan. 19 – Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. From dog sled rides and ice skating, to zip lining and fireworks, Fire & Ice has it all.

Even with warmer than usual temperatures, the 2018 Fire & Ice Festival drew approximately 55,000 visitors. The tube sledding hill and cross-country ski area were replaced with a zip line and climbing tower. Event staples include the Big, Bright Light Show, live music and an ice sculpture carving competition.

The Daisy Project-MI

Adaptive recreation, which provides opportunities for individuals of all ages with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities, is a priority for OCPR. The system’s 13 parks offer a variety of adaptive equipment designed to make it easier for everyone to maximize enjoyment of the outdoors and have fun leisure experiences with friends and family. However, the sandy beach area at Groveland Oaks County Park often was a challenge for individuals with mobility issues to navigate. Funding from the Daisy Project – MI made it feasible to install a Mobi-Mat.

A Mobi-Mat is a non-slip portable roll-out pathway with a patented 3-D design surface that allows individuals of all abilities, including wheelchair users, to access the water.

The Daisy Project-MI is a non-profit organization whose mission is to obtain medical equipment and other recreation items for special needs families that will help to enhance their quality of life.

Steve Stolaruk

Since the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission, Michigan Department of Nature Resources and Groveland Township started talking about creating an off-road vehicle park, Steve Stolaruk had been the biggest supporter of the idea.

Stolaruk, of Rochester Hills, sold his sand and gravel mine in Holly to the MDNR to provide about half of the land necessary for the future off-road vehicle park. He was a special guest at the first of the two Dixie Gully Run test events and was inspired by what he saw. From 2014-2017, Steve had one or two of his employees working six days a week sculpting every inch of the 113-acre property in an effort to get the park developed as soon as possible. His volunteer work equaled thousands of dollars in free material and time. He built hills, dug ponds and mud pits, cut hill climbs, leveled prospective parking areas, and roughed-in more than five miles of winding ORV trails. He also brought in refrigerator-sized boulders and concrete slabs (and more than 150 mammoth tree trunks) to the site.

Until his death on Feb. 12, 2018 at the age of 91, his excitement never waned.

The Community Service Award winners were recognized April 18 in Lansing.

For information on other events, visit OaklandCountyParks.com. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Two transformative park projects take shape in Rochester Hills

Two parks are under development in Rochester Hills, one humble in size and one more grand in scope and scale.

A gravel pull-out near the intersection of Avon and Livernois roads is being transformed into a fully-developed park. Work on the Eagles Landing trailhead has begun, with picnic tables, trash cans, and a well-defined parking lot recently put in place. With access to the Clinton River, the shore functions as a kayak launch, as well.

Ken Elwert, director of Parks and Natural Resources for Rochester Hills, says that the improvements are just beginning and that a fully-developed park, along with proper kayak launch, are scheduled to be completed in the next three to five years.

Southwest of Eagles Landing is Innovation Hills, a 110-acre eco-park that is being developed in six phases. The $7 million project, a combination of public and private funding sources, will take several years to be completed, though some features could debut by the end of summer.

Both parks are currently accessible.

"I think with Rochester Hills in general, the citizens, politicians, and businesses, they’re all here for the livability of the city," Elwert says. "These parks are something that the residents and businesses wanted, and the government responded."

One intriguing aspect of the Innovation Hills project will be the development of a playground that is friendly to those with autism. While the playground should appeal to all, this one will avoid using bright colors and will incorporate calming "cocoon-like" spaces, both features designed with autistic children in mind.

Other amenities will include a 2,000-foot boardwalk, four miles of walkable trails, two new ponds, a community building, and much more. Elwert is hopeful that the first mile-long trail loop and boardwalk will open by late summer or early fall, and perhaps some water features by late fall.

Construction of the playground will begin in 2019.

"Innovation Hills will complement the other larger parks, not duplicate them," says Elwert. "It’s going to be a more Up North experience."

Innovation Hills is located at 2800 W. Hamlin Rd. in Rochester Hills.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.


Royal Oak Golf Center: A swingin' time for everyone

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It’s a perfect 76 degrees on a stellar blue-sky afternoon at the Royal Oak Golf Center. The air is sweet with the smell of new-mown grass and the constant sound of range balls being whacked, and pals Matt Song of Franklin and John Calso of West Bloomfield are geeked about the new Power Tee system they’re trying out.

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Holly business commissions muralist to create vibrant scene on Battle Alley building

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Kevin Burdick of Fenton finished the mural on the back of the RHL Group Investments building in Battle Alley last week, and people are still walking up to take photos of the mural, and Burdick himself, in front of the colorful scene.

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Farmington High School unveils performing arts center

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You couldn't blame Lily Talevski for not immediately recognizing her surroundings Wednesday when she walked into the Performing Arts Center at Farmington High School.

After all, it looks dramatically different than it did the last time Talevski, a 2014 Farmington graduate, performed on its stage.

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Handmade: Designer has finger on pulse of knitwear

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She’s fashionably modern, on the cutting edge for designing up-to-date knitwear, and willing to share her knitting skills with others by instructing classes at local yarn shops and elsewhere.

Meet Cassondra Rizzardi, 30, of Ferndale, who learned to knit and crochet as a young child from her grandmother.

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Birmingham Chocolate bars meet Westborn potato chips in product collaboration

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Westborn Market customers can satisfy their Birmingham Chocolate cravings through a new product line called Eat Good Chocolate.

The two businesses have teamed to create a line of chocolate bars in seven different flavors that are sold at Westborn Market under its private label partnership program. 

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Treasure: Henry Ford explores Eames designs

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Some of my favorite designs in “The World of Charles and Ray Eames,” which recently opened at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (thehenryford.org) in Dearborn, are also some of the smallest. One was a charming child’s plywood elephant that dated to 1945; the other was a deck of cards from 1952.

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