How to keep metro Detroit kids happy at the tail end of winter

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With the weather hovering between icy wind and mild temperatures, kids are getting antsy for spring. Until you can simply send your little one outside for hours of amusement, here are some ideas to keep them happy and occupied.

Make a special occasion out of going to the theater. The Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township is showing the children’s classic “Charolotte’s Web” March 23 and 24. Your adolescent might enjoy “Rock of Ages” put on by the Clintondale Community Theatre the first two weekends in May.

The Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens offers youth art classes. March’s classes are 3-D Map, Illuminated Monogram and Impressions. April’s classes follow an upcycling theme. No appointment is needed to create your own art at Plaster Playhouse in Shelby Township. Simply choose your piece of plaster or pottery and start painting!

Boost your baby’s brain power through programs offered at your local library. Throughout the year, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library offers storytime sessions including Baby Time, Tot Time, Little Listeners, Preschool, Music & Movement and Pajamarama. My daughter loves Pajama Storytime at the Eastpointe Memorial Library, where kids dress in their pajamas, bring their favorite stuffed animal to hold and listen to the youth librarian read stories.

Check with your local Parks and Recreation Department to see what seasonal offerings are scheduled. The Warren Community Center boasts an indoor waterpark comprised of a lap pool, pool basketball, waterslide, lazy river and play structure complete with a water cannon and waterfall. Other nice amenities for adults include a sauna, steam room and fitness room.

Get hands-on and join your kid for a skate around the rink. The St. Clair Shores Ice Arena has public skating from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It is $3 per person, and children under 6 are free when accompanied by an adult. Admission to the Mount Clemens Ice Arena is $5 for adults and $4.50 for students, seniors and youth. Skate rental is $3.

Pack on the layers and head out to one of Macomb County’s Metroparks. Weather permitting, Lake St. Clair Metropark offers ice fishing, cross-country skiing and outdoor ice skating. Snowshoe or cross-country ski across marked trails at Stony Creek Metropark, or head over to the winter sports area with hills to snowboard, sled or toboggan. Eastpointe’s Spindler Park recently revamped its new sledding hill. Open dawn to dusk, it includes a hay bale safety barrier and seating area. The Macomb Orchard Trail isn’t just for running or biking; it’s also open to cross-country skiers.

Just Delicious SconesJust Delicious Scones on Utica in Roseville is a quaint tea room, bakery and coffee shop with … well, delicious scones. Get big-girl dressed up for this fancy excursion. Sip tea or cider from beautiful china and delicately nibble on scones – a memory your child will remember. If your little one isn’t likely to sit still for long, try Chuck E. Cheese in Roseville or Sterling Heights. Jungle Java in Clinton Township is an indoor play center with a sports court and laser maze. It includes a separate toddler play area and a full menu.

Let the kids burn off energy at the Bounce House in New Baltimore, St. Clair Shores or Sterling Heights. It consists of giant inflatable slides, moon walks and an obstacle course along with arcade games that might even entertain mom and dad. Try Airtime in Sterling Heights or Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Shelby Township for open jumping on wall-to-wall trampolines, foam pits, dodgeball and basketball. Jumpers are sorted by age to make sure the intensity level is a good match, though there are waivers that must be signed before participating in the fun. Play miniature golf any day of the week at Jawor’s on Gratiot in Roseville. It has an 18-hole course for kids of all ages and is open year-round.

It doesn’t matter what you decide to do as long as you make the time you spend together count. Unplug and give your kids your full attention – that’s all they want!

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The Walkability Factor

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Macomb County roads are always evolving, and whether you drive, take the bus or ride your bike to work, roads affect all of our daily lives.  Many spend hours sitting on these roads in rush hour traffic while commuting to work each week. Every winter, we turn to our local news for weather and traffic report updates to plot out alternate routes and hope the roads are plowed.  Even Executive Mark A. Hackel has taken up the topic, asking local legislators to look at our potholes and take action.

While the northern part of Macomb County is paving dirt roads and widening busy thoroughfares, the built-up southern end of the county is taking measures to close the concrete gap.  An example of this can be seen on Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township.

In an effort to improve pedestrian safety, the Michigan Department of Transportation has installed four new high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) signals.  Signals were installed on both sides of the Gratiot median at Quinn Road and Laurel Street.  The HAWK signals remain dark until activated by a pedestrian, at which point the signal will flash yellow, turn solid yellow, then solid red, indicating to traffic to slow and stop.  Traffic can begin again once signals flash red and pedestrians have cleared.

Another pedestrian-friendly project recently completed in Macomb County was the installation of a traffic island and pedestrian-activated signals on 12 Mile Road in Warren between Macomb Community College’s South Campus and Wayne State University’s new Advanced Technology Education Center.  As a result, students and SMART bus riders are able to conveniently traverse the five lanes of traffic.

While roads are the portals that take us anywhere we want to go, they often serve as impassible dividers within a community. For example, a store may be within eyesight and walking distance, but crossing eight lanes of traffic may be nearly impossible or simply impractical if the nearest intersection is a half mile away.  These projects increase the convenience for anyone trying to get around by bike or on foot – something that is becoming more popular with not only young professionals, but also senior citizens who want to stay in their community without relying on cars for transportation.

Walkability plays into the major placemaking movement many communities are striving to adopt.  The city of Roseville has taken on an initiative to create a pedestrian-accessible business district at the Utica and Gratiot junction.  The Roseville City Counsel passed an ordinance that creates a town center overlay district for this area which could feature landscaped streets, restaurants with outdoor seating and a mix of commercial and residential areas.  The council also passed other ordinances allowing for more sidewalks, less parking spots and more bicycle parking.

Both Roseville and Eastpointe were recently declared Development Ready Communities by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  Last October, Eastpointe hosted a charrette where it invited students from Lawrence Tech and the George Brown College’s Institute without Boundaries program from Toronto to brainstorm redevelopment ideas for the city.  Of the many ideas that were generated, some were to turn the Stephens and Gratiot intersection into a walkable area of commerce and to add bike lanes on Kelly Road.

Bike lanes are soon to become a reality for the city of Warren.  Warren officials approved funding for a non-motorized pathway along Van Dyke Avenue that will include a dedicated lane, median enhancements, a decorative crosswalk and sidewalk ramps.  Once completed, there could be an opportunity to extend the path to other neighboring communities.  The goal is that the increased pedestrian and bike traffic will lead to more revenue for businesses in the area.

The next time you find yourself sitting in traffic in Macomb County, keep your eye out for some of the exciting new developments that are coming down the pike.

This article was also published in eMacomb Winter 2015.

Great Fresh Foods new product ready to hit shelves

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Gourmet stuffed chicken patties, fire-roasted chicken breast, Jamaican-style chicken, stuffed meatballs, stuffed beef patties, stuffed chicken meatballs—is your stomach growling yet? This is the product line for the emerging company Great Fresh Foods. If you have not heard of them yet, you will.

Empty plateGreat Fresh Foods is the brand-new sister company of the well-established Garden Fresh Gourmet—the salsa sensation out of Ferndale that has taken the industry by storm. In a few short years, Garden Fresh Gourmet has grown from its humble beginnings to become the largest fresh salsa company in North America. It carries several gourmet lines including hummus, tortilla chips, guacamole, dips and salad dressings.

Co-founders Jack and Annette Aronson have expanded into new territory with their line of gourmet stuffed burgers and meatballs. Having already mastered a state-of-the-art, high-pressure process that enables them to provide fresh products that are preservative-free, they have applied the process to their new company’s products as well. The result is a delicious, never-frozen entrée that is ready to eat after one minute in the microwave.

Empty plate“We are about to launch a new company that offers a breakthrough in the fresh burger and meatball category: chicken and beef burgers that are truly stuffed, not mixed, with premium fillings that both in terms of visuals and flavor profile are unlike anything else on the market,” said Vice Chairman of Garden Fresh Gourmet Dave Zilko.

Zilko added, “To be featured under our new Jack’s Special Grilled brand, the initial line will feature four varieties of fully cooked, all natural, gluten-free stuffed chicken burgers: Spinach & 3 Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon & Cheddar, Roasted Red Pepper & Mozzarella, and PepperJack.”

In April of 2014, Great Fresh Foods acquired a 12,000-square-foot facility located at 44696 Morley Drive in Clinton Township. Choosing to locate Great Fresh Foods within Macomb County put the up-and-coming company on the Department of Planning and Economic Development’s (MCPED) radar. Senior Economic Development Specialists Camille Silda and Jack Johns reached out to the company to offer assistance.

GreatFreshCamille and Jack were able to refer valuable resources to the business and put them in touch with development partners at Michigan Works and Macomb Community College. MCPED also worked as a liaison between Great Fresh Foods and Consumers Energy to get the Clinton Township facility up and running. Preparing an Industrial Facilities Exemption tax abatement was another service MCPED provided.

So where can you find these delicious new products? Look for Jack’s Special Grilled brand in the meat department at Meijer.

A version of this article was also published in eMacomb Spring 2014.