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Metroparks celebrates 75 years of recreation

Jo Kroeker
The Detroit News

This year, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks Authority turns 75 years old and to celebrate with its 9 million annual visitors, the system plans activities including fireworks, new facilities and giveaways.

Fireworks go off Wednesday through Saturdayat Hudson Mills, Indian Springs, Lake St. Clair (Metro Beach) and Willow parks, respectively.

Lake St. Clair Metropark, or Metro Beach, is constructing a new $2 million, Wi-Fi-equipped playground and adult workout facility.

Stony Creek Metropark breaks ground this fall for Stony Creek Landing, a $4.7 million outdoor seating area and pier where hikers, bikers and runners can relax with refreshments and a view.

This year, specials, giveaways and an end-of-the-season dinner will commemorate the anniversary, director George Phifer said.

The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority pinpoints its birthday in 1942, when property taxes made the first funds available, but the idea for a regional park system can be traced back to 1939 and two men, Henry Curtis and Harlow Whittemore.

The first park to open to the public was Kensington Metropark in 1947 and the last to open was Wolcott Mill Metropark, in 1989.

In April, Stony Creek’s Go Ape Adventure Course opened, taking visitors to the trees with new rope courses and ziplines, at a cost of $38-$58.

Memorial Day weekend, Kensington Park hosted its inaugural art fair, which Phifer said will continue next year and may expand to other parks. This summer, the number of Michigan Philharmonic performances will increase to four.

According to Phifer, park operations run $30 million to $40 million, which includes everything from repairs to new infrastructure to staff salaries. The parks receive two-thirds of funding from property taxes, and one-third from park operations — passes, activities and rentals.

“One of the challenges is you’ll never have enough money,” Phifer said. “We have a lot of aging buildings, so we’re always finding ways to maintain or update things.”

“Every county, every park, has certain needs and we have to plan ahead for future visitors,” he said.

Phifer said there are no plans at this time to increase pricing since the last hikes occurred in 2015. Annual vehicle passes remain $35, boat passes $35 and combination permits $70, with discounts available for seniors age 62 and up.

Phifer said the most popular parks are the larger ones: Kensington, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lower Huron, Hudson Mills and Stony Creek. The other parks, however, he considers hidden gems with unique natural resources and experiences.

Even with the volume of visitors, most of the parks’ acreage remains untouched.

According to Phifer, the system strives to balance preservation and the various interests of user groups: about 19,000 acres are pristine and only 6,000 acres have been developed for facilities.


Fireworks displays:

  • Hudson Mills, June 28
  • Indian Springs, June 29
  • Lake Sinclair (Metrobeach), June 30
  • Willow, July 1

Michigan Philharmonic concerts:

  • Kensington, July 15
  • Lake St. Clair, July 22
  • Stony Creek, July 29
  • Lake Erie, Aug. 5