Over The Drainage District

By Rena Petrashko
Photos Courtesy of Oakland County Parks and Recreation

Recycling isn’t limited to plastic, paper, and aluminum. A 6,700-acre parks system in Michigan turned land unsuitable for development into a recreation destination that serves more than 170,000 annual visitors.

Red Oaks County Park in Madison Heights features:

  • A Jerry Matthews-designed nine-hole golf course
  • A waterpark, including a wave-action pool, waterslide, and river ride
  • A 5-acre dog park
  • Youth soccer fields
  • A nature center surrounded by the Suarez Friendship Woods.

Much of the park is situated over a previously open-drainage system that had dumped raw sewage into the ClintonRiver in the 1960s. The system was later enclosed underground and renamed the George W. Kuhn Drainage District. It serves 14 communities by storing storm-water overflow and treating sewage. The land above the retention-treatment basin (storage capacity of 124 million gallons) is ideally suited as a park because permanent structures are not permitted. Oakland County Parks and Recreation (OCPR) leased the land above and around the drainage system in 1978 and installed productive recreational facilities.

“Red Oaks County Park is a fine example of what can be accomplished with land that cannot be developed but is creatively utilized to provide recreational opportunities, programs, and facilities to meet the needs of urban county residents,” says Executive Officer Dan Stencil.

Environmental sustainability in the park has increased with the establishment of rain gardens and no-mow areas that filter rainwater and provide wildlife habitats. OCPR is currently in the process of forecasting other sustainable projects, such as a storm-water reclamation system.

Sprucing Up The Site
Since assuming management of the park, the county has invested nearly $12 million in improvements.

Red Oaks Golf Course was shut down in 2003 for one year so the storm-water treatment and sewage facilities could be separated. In spring 2004, the golf course was reopened after renovations as a 60-acre, nine-hole course with the addition of bunkers, berms, new irrigation system, newly planted trees, and larger greens at a cost of $2.6 million. Excess dirt from the drain project was repurposed into golf course bunkers and berms.

Red Oaks Waterpark opened in July 1986 at an installation cost of $4.8 million. The 21-acre complex features a wave-action pool and giant triple waterslide. In 2003, OCPR installed new water attractions, including a 990-foot-long River Ride, an interactive playground Soak Station, a toddler wet deck, and spray area called Spray & Play at a cost of $3.4 million.

Red Oaks County Park is located in a densely populated area where the urban, developed nature of the surroundings has eliminated true natural communities. Naturalized areas of the park were created to increase connectivity to wildlife and assist storm-water management with retention ponds, native plant swales, and no-mow areas. It is an important green infrastructure link to the Suarez Friendship Woods and nature center--an urban oasis.

Rena Petrashko is with the communications and marketing department for the Oakland County Parks system in Michigan. Reach her at petrashkor@oakgov.com .