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Source: Detroit Free Press
BY TAMMY STABLES BATTAGLIA FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER
Riverland opened in 1935 as Utica Amusement Park, mainly as a picnic area. Rides were added in the 1940s, and the park became the site for the world series of miniature golf after the course was added in the 1960s. A group of three investors changed the name to Riverland Amusement Park when they bought it in 1989. And Roll, who owns and rents carnival rides for a living, bought the park after he visited during a corporate picnic in 1992. "We had (corporate) clients, too, which helped us through 12 years at the park," Roll said.
The ride is over at Riverland Amusement Park, which has been dismantled so an assisted living apartment complex can be built this summer on the site in Sterling Heights. A single horse from the C.W. Parker merry-go-round now prances silently in the Ann Arbor home of Riverlands last owner, Rick Roll. The Big Eli 12 Ferris Wheel was trucked away after a recent auction of the parks rides. Roll said economic pressures forced him to sell the 10-acre park property. Local corporations and groups cut back in recent years on company picnics, which were the financial backbone of one of the last family-owned amusement parks in metro Detroit, Roll said. And the number of guests on Friday and Saturday nights, when the park was open to the public, couldnt compete with the skyrocketing value of the property on Van Dyke Avenue at M-59. "We didnt want to, really," Roll said of closing the park. "We had to do what we had to do."
Many area families have memories of warm summer nights along the Clinton River, with sounds of children shrieking after the roller coasters clackita-clackita climb up mini-hills. Dennis Johnston of Sterling Heights thinks wistfully of families who will miss the opportunity to take their children to weekend car shows or to ride the rides, as he did many years ago. His children are now 28 and 30. His wife, Antoinette Johnston, compares the loss to the extinction of drive-in theaters around metro Detroit. "A lot of family things are going to the wayside," Antoinette Johnston said over dinner at the diner across the street from Riverland. "Its a sign of the times."