The Thunderdrome: Unearthing a Gem in Detroit

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Let's time travel. It's 1969 and we're in Dorais Park, Detroit, near E. Eight Mile and Mound Road. Construction has just been completed on a brand new velodrome -- a cycling venue consisting of a steeply banked, concrete oval loop, 250 meters long -- in anticipation of the U.S. National Track Championships held there later that year. This Championship and the many that follow are bright spots in a declining neighborhood. For the next 20 years, the city maintains this bastion of bike racing against urban devastation, marked here by the closure of the Chrysler assembly plant across the street.

Eventually, the Dorais Park Velodrome is abandoned by the city and handed over to the elements. Illegal car races are sometimes held here, accelerating the cracking of the concrete that was only designed to sustain bicycles, while bushes, grasses, and trees split apart the fissures. Two decades of neglect take their toll.

Welcome to 2010. A group of renegade urban landscapers, known as The Mower Gang, take their lawn care equipment to Dorais Park, unearth the velodrome, and begin rehabbing the battered beauty. It's renamed The Thunderdrome, an homage to the post-apocalyptic Mad Max film series from the '80s, and a race is staged for two-wheeled vehicles that October.

As race organizer Ben Wojdyla writes, "the Thunderdrome wouldn't be limited to just bicycles. We wanted higher speeds and more excitement. We wanted loony subcultures, weirdos, a scene, a spectacle—something people could get excited about. So in addition to traditional fixed-gear road bicycles, geared bikes and mountain bikes, we also invited racers on mopeds, scooters and pit bikes". The Fall race is a success, drawing hundreds of spectators and racers and spawning the demand for a Spring race, which will take place this Saturday, April 30, at noon. Detroit reinvention and DIY spirit charge headlong into the future of the city.

The latest issue of Bicycling Magazine, with holdings at all AADL locations, has an article on the Thunderdrome, as does the October 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics. Check out the Thunderdrome's website for more details on the race.velorace3velorace3

Still Young After All These Years

Neil Young takes the stage at Fox Theater in Detroit on Wednesday, May 4, as part of his eleven city solo tour, Twisted Road. Playing acoustic and electric guitars, pump organ, piano, and (of course) harmonica, the folk-rock legend is likely to play a mix of his greatest hits, like "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", "Tell Me Why", and "Cinnamon Girl" along with a strong helping of songs from his 2010 Grammy award winning release, Le Noise, produced by Daniel Lanois. Young won Best Rock Song for "Angry World", his second ever Grammy in a career spanning more than four decades.

Later this year, Neil Young will rejoin Stephen Stills and other members of short-lived '60s band, Buffalo Springfield, for a reunion tour that will make stops in California before headlining the multi-day music and arts festival, Bonnaroo, in Tennessee. Looks like it's going to be a great year for Neil Young fans.

The AADL music collection includes dozens of albums that span Young's impressive career. If you're new to his music, this writer recommends starting with Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Harvest, and On the Beach.

April 16 - 19 is National Park Week

The U.S. National Park Service is celebrating National Park Week from April 16 - 19, which means free entry into 394 National Parks this week. There are six National Park locations in Michigan, though the most famous are the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes in Empire, MI, and the stunning Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula.

The NPS will host numerous events at the parks throughout the week, such as Junior Ranger Day and an Empire Bluffs Sunset Hike. If you can't make it away this week but want more information on these fantastic natural resources in Michigan, check out Michigan State and National Parks by Tom Powers or the nearly 200 National Parks guidebooks from the AADL.

101 Things You Didn’t Know About Ann Arbor…

…But Are About to Find Out Why is a new book by Martin Woodhouse. The author presents “fascinating tangents and tidbits in purposely random sequence” about the fair city of Ann Arbor. He ups the “quirk quotient” and treats readers to some interesting stories and facts about A2 and some of its story-worthy inhabitants.

Perhaps you’ve read Wicked Washtenaw County, Strange Tales of The Grisly and Unexplained, and are looking for more facts about the area. This book is right up your alley. Also recommended for some local trivia is another new book, Ghostly Tales of Michigan, which shares ghostly tales of some of Michigan’s more ghostly places.

Check Out a Museum Adventure Pass!

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Looking for some indoor fun this winter? Come to any of our branches and check out a Museum Adventure Pass! There are over 30 museums you can visit, and the passes admit 2 or 4 depending on where you're headed. Why not take a look around the corner at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History? Exhibits include displays on prehistoric life with the most extensive dinosaur exhibits in the state of Michigan, Michigan wildlife, anthropology, geology, and a Planetarium. Have fun, learn, and stay warm all at the same time!

Winter Interpretive Nature Programs at Hudson Mills Metropark

Ah winter, the target of our arrows, the gum under our shoe, the stain we can't scrub out, the thorn in our wooly socks, how you do take fearsome ire from we who live through your months. But wait! It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Just getting outside can turn a furrowed brow into a cheesy smile, and there's plenty for the whole family to do out there as long as you dress warmly enough.

Every Saturday during the month of February, Hudson Mills Metropark will continue to host Winter Interpretive Nature Programs for all ages. Each weekend is a different theme, including the sonorous Bird Hike, the intriguing Better to Eat You With, and the adventurous On the Trail of the Whitetail. Preregistration is required -- phone: 800-477-3191-- and programs cost $3 per person.

March weekends at Hudson Mills will feature the programs, Journey to the Sugar Bush, a guided tour to the sugar bush where you'll learn how maple syrup has been made over the years. Some lucky guests might even get to tap a tree. There is a pancake and sausage breakfast afterward for an additional fee, and preregistration is required.

The AADL also has a range of books on sugaring and making maple syrup.

Grisly Local History: Wicked Washtenaw County

For those of you who enjoy history with a morbid twist, the AADL now offers Wicked Washtenaw County: Strange Tales of the Grisly and Unexplained. This new collection of short stories from local Ypsilanti historian James Thomas Mann offers up true tales of murder, mystery, grave robbing, scandal, etc. culled from old newspapers of our area. Mann's book is a short, quick read garnished with photos and drawings of the people and places involved. It gives a glimpse into Washtenaw's darker history, like the unsolved 1913 murder of a Chelsea woman who was strangled and found buried under a pile of cornhusks in her barn.

Historic Michigan: Author appearance Oct. 5

Here's a good book to take along if you're touring Michigan and might enjoy witnessing some of our state history: Michigan's County Courthouses, by John Fedynsky. The author -- a Ferndale lawyer and Michigan assistant attorney general -- wrote about 83 courthouses, plus the Michigan Hall of Justice. On Oct. 5 (Tuesday) from 7-8:30pm, he appears at U-M Hatcher Library, in the University of Michigan Press Author Series.

New Election Polls Out this Week

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Public Policy Polling will release new Michigan election polls at this Thursday's, Sept. 23, appearance at the Pittsfield Branch by nationally-acclaimed pollster Tom Jensen. PPP conducted polls on the race for Governor, SOS, AG, State Legislature, U.S. House and favorability ratings for federal and state elected officials. Jensen got his start right here in Ann Arbor and brings a wealth of knowledge of local and state-level politics that political junkies will appreciate as much as Daily Kos.

ArtPrize 2010

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ArtPrize turns the city of Grand Rapids (Michigan) into an art gallery for two weeks every fall. ArtPrize features over 1,700 pieces of art on display at more than 175 venues in downtown Grand Rapids, including seven main exhibition centers.

This year, the dates are September 22 - October 10. It is an international art contest solely voted on by the general public. Yes - that means YOU!. Here is how to register to vote.

As the world's largest art prize, a total of 449,000 is awarded to the top 10 artists (with $250,000 going to the 1st place winner). New this year are the juried awards.

The winner will be announced Thursday, October 7 (7:00PM EDT) among this year's entries.

Don't feel like making the 133-mile trip on your own and the hassle of parking? Michigan Radio has organized a round-trip bus tour for Sunday, Sept 26, 2010. The bus will leave Ann Arbor at 10am and return at approximately 8pm. For reservations/information: (734) 946-7021 ext. 21, or email junsworth@biancotours.com.

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