Oakland County marks 1-year anniversary of COVID-19 in Michigan with memorial trail

By: - March 10, 2021 9:57 pm

Invited guests were allowed to visit the Oakland Together COVID-19 Tribute Walk at Waterford Oaks County Park in Waterford Township on March 10, the one year anniversary of the first known case of COVID-19 in Michigan. The trail lighting is operated by Bluewater Technologies, who previously ran Glenore Trails in Commerce Township. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Oakland County marked the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in the state of Michigan on Wednesday, opening a memorial trail where residents can reflect on the 15,706 lives lost to the virus since March 10, 2020.

“We need this moment to remember and express our feelings as a community after enduring a year of pandemic challenges, heartbreak and even instances of inspiration,” said Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter. “The Tribute Walk will remind us of the lives who shine brightly whether they are still with us or have passed and will give us a glimpse of what we have to be thankful for as we move forward together past the pandemic.”

The Oakland Together COVID-19 Tribute Walk is a half-mile trail with various immersive lighting features installed, including string light canopies; more than 100 candle lights, each representing 10 lives lost to the virus in the county; and illuminated trees.

The trail is operated by Bluewater Technologies, a live event company that pivoted to doing their own outdoor attractions when the pandemic shut down most concerts and other events – including Glenlore Trails in Commerce Township.

Bob Marsh, the chief revenue officer for Bluewater Technologies, said the initial concept was a result of the pandemic – but will have lasting consequences for their business.

“This was a wonderful example of the innovation that came from being under the challenges and pressures of a global pandemic,” Marsh said. “We’ve started many mini-innovations over the past year, and this is one of three different products and services that made a real impact and will shape the future of our company.”

“This past year has been challenging to all of us, both personally and professionally, and I can’t wait for it all to be over, but in retrospect has also been a catalyst to try new things that otherwise we may not have and enabled us to come out of this even stronger.”

Brandy Boyd, an employee of the Oakland County Department of Parks and Recreation, remembered her parents at the kick-off event – both of whom passed away due to COVID-19 last year.

“They tested positive in mid-August. They were home about a week when I needed to call 911 to get them to the hospital. Ironically, that was on their 50th wedding anniversary,” Boyd said. “Their journey together was all the way until the end. They both fought very hard with this horrible disease. Unfortunately, it just overtook their bodies. My mom lost her battle in August, my dad still fighting and heartbroken. He fought and fought, but he passed on Sept. 3.”

Boyd noted that losing loved ones is especially challenging during the pandemic because it limits the amount of interaction you can have with others.

“It’s never easy to lose a loved one. But losing one to COVID brings on so many more levels and layers,” Boyd said. “Not being able to be with your loved one when they pass or are getting medical treatment. Not being able to honor them with a typical funeral. Having to mourn alone, without your family and friends.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer marked the anniversary at a press conference in Lansing Wednesday afternoon.

“We have to remind ourselves that in times of darkness, the light we seek resides in one another,” Whitmer said. “In Michigan, we show up for one another.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, recalled announcing the first known cases of COVID-19 in the state a year ago.

“At the time, I knew the days ahead would be difficult. But I don’t think anyone could ever imagine just how challenging it would be,” Khaldun said.

Michigan has 601,284 known cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Wednesday afternoon, including two new variants of the virus that are believed to spread faster. More than 2.7 million vaccine doses have been distributed to Michigan residents as of Wednesday afternoon.

Whitmer noted that in addition to COVID-19, Michigan residents also faced historic flooding, an economic recession, a racial reckoning and a divisive election – all during the pandemic.

“It’s hard to overstate just how much we’ve all been through together since March 2020,” Whitmer said.

But Whitmer said there is light at the end of the tunnel, noting that there are now three safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19.

“Now we’re in the second half of our fight against the virus, and we’re all on the same team. We’re united against this virus,” Whitmer said. “It’s MSU and U of M against COVID. Yoopers and downstaters against COVID. Republicans and Democrats against COVID. Three safe, effective vaccines against COVID. America against COVID. We’re all in this together.”

The memorial trail located at the Waterford Oaks County Park in Waterford Township is open to invited guests from March 11 through March 14 before opening to the public from March 15 to March 21.

Members of the public can register for $5 tickets starting Thursday. Tickets are issued in half hour increments to maintain social distancing on the trail and can only be purchased online. Proceeds will be donated to a local charity.

Individuals who contribute to digital remembrance and gratitude maps, where they can share stories memorializing those they’ve lost to the pandemic or small acts of kindness that have helped them get through the pandemic, may be invited to visit during the first weekend.

Outside the trail, individuals can also post photos of loved ones they’ve lost to COVID-19, write the names of those they’ve lost on a large yellow heart with a black ribbon (the symbol for those lost to COVID-19), and write messages of gratitude for frontline workers on a large green heart.

The heart signs will travel around public locations at the Oakland County government campus, becoming lasting memorials.

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a regular contributor to the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.