Sterling Heights

Summer in Sterling Heights, but not as we know it

Summer in Sterling Heights is usually full of community events, from relaxed craft beer afternoons at the historic Upton House to the popular Sterlingfest, which draws over 125,000 visitors to Dodge Park. This year will look different. 

As the city alters plans to avoid COVID-19 risks, major events have been cancelled but many are adapting, shifting to virtual platforms or applying social distancing rules, and new activities, like drive-in movies and timed kayak races, are planned as the city reopens.

“We completely understand the need to temporarily suspend larger gatherings in order to reduce community spread of COVID-19,” says Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor. “But it’s also critically important that our residents have a way to maintain their mental health and physical health during this time."

"Humans need to stay connected and active to remain fully healthy, so we want to do whatever we can to provide opportunities for our residents to do so in a way that’s safe."

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor is proud of how the city is adapting to COVID-19 restrictions as the community reopens.

Sterlingfest cancelled

The city’s biggest summer celebration, Sterlingfest Art & Music Festival, won't happen this year because of state and national limits to large gatherings. It’s a blow for the city, but plans for an enhanced 2021 line-up are already underway. 

“This is the first time Sterlingfest has been canceled in its 39-year history,” says Taylor. “We did not make this decision lightly, and we know how disappointing this is. But we also know this is the responsible thing to do.” 

All of this year’s headline acts, including Simply Queen Tribute, Plain White T’s, Lou Gramm (the original voice of Foreigner) and Asia featuring John Payne have agreed to return for performances at Sterlingfest next year, scheduled for July 29, 30 and 31.

“We will be back and better than ever in 2021,” says Stacy Ziarko, Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce (SHRCCI) President and CEO. 

Virtual 5K run

The city's annual Utica Community Schools SOS 5K run, and 1-mile fun run, was a lot more flexible this year, with participants this year taking part at their leisure.

Runners could choose where they run, whether it be on a treadmill at home or outside by running or walking a favorite route, any time before June 6. Participants still received race bibs and certificates, and could post their result to online events program EnMotive.

Smaller outdoor events take the place of Music in the Park 

Thursday evenings in Dodge Park won’t see the regular Music in the Park concert series but the city’s Parks and Recreation department is planning alternative entertainment activities that will meet guidelines for safely reopening the community. 

Road rallies, drive-in movies with laser light shows, car shows and a timed kayak race on the Clinton River are being organized and smaller social opportunities like art classes, e-sports and games, and kite-making are planned for the summer.
A virtual summer camp with similar activities to traditional Summer Playground and Adaptive Day Camp programs is also in the works and SHRCCI is planning a Macomb County Scavenger Hunt on June 27. The city's annual Treasure Hunter's Market has been shifted from its May date to September 19.

Craft beer events to go ahead

City officials are working with the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, which manages Sterlingfest’s Suds ‘n’ Sounds beer tent each year, to host additional smaller craft beer events on Thursday nights. 

The Patios ‘n’ Pints series, which ran for the first time last year and is supported by metro Detroit breweries, will run this summer from July 16 to August 27 adjacent to the Dodge Park Farmers Market Pavilion.

Troy Nowotny, recreation supervisor, and market manager Jean Smith at last year's Dodge Park farmer's market.Dodge Park Farmers Market pivots

Parks and Recreation director Kyle Langlois said the city’s usually bustling farmers market will be reduced, but still operational.

Like many of the state’s markets adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be no on-site eating and will be more transactional than communal. The market is scheduled to begin on July 9 and will run from 3 to 8pm on Thursdays.

“We will be offering a scaled back version of the farmers market that conforms with state guidelines,” says Langlois. “Weekly vendors will include essential food vendors and a couple of food trucks that can provide food to go.”

Recreation supervisor Troy Nowotny says some flowering plants and pet food are included in the essential category, and that he hopes people will feel safer shopping for healthy food in an open air environment.

"We feel that the market is important not just for the farmers and vendors selling, but a lot of people rely on it for a source of fresh produce," Nowotny says.

Virtual library events

While the city’s library progresses through a phased reopening, patrons have been turning to virtual events. Online book clubs, literacy programs, storytime sessions, and art classes have been ways for residents to connect from home and the library will continue virtual programs over the summer.

More than 800 people tuned in to the library’s “Maker Monday” Memorial Day themed craft project on Facebook and a life skills-based “Kitchen Commando” program has proved equally as popular on social media.

"Almost anything you'd expect inside the library will be available online," says Jason Groth, public relations and programs coordinator at the library, "including our annual summer reading program."

The library will begin contactless curbside pickup on Monday and, beginning June 29, will allow a limited number of residents to use its computers, copier and fax/scan station.

"Offering all these services is critically important because everyone needs to learn, grow,  socialize, and maintain as much normalcy as possible in these not-so-normal times," says Groth.
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Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at