Outside media coverage of Mill Creek MetroParks

Ford Nature Center reopens

After picking up a small fishing rod and line, Nico Rogers didn’t catch any trout or bass, but he did reel in much excitement and anticipation.

“I think it’s amazing and extraordinary,” Nico, 9, of Boardman, said. “You can teach kids about nature. It feels great because there are so many new things, and things to experiment with.”

The Boardman Center Middle School student was referring to the reopened Ford Nature Center on Old Furnace Road in Mill Creek Park, which was the site of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house Saturday.

The event also coincided with Earth Day.

The stately building, which was constructed in 1913 and became a nature center in the early 1970s, closed in February 2020 to undergo about $4 million in renovations — work that was ongoing through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the changes and additions left an impression on Nico, whose regular interactions with the park include playing sports and birdwatching.

“What a gift to give to the community,” the boy’s mother, Melissa Rogers, said.

In addition to adding new features, a top priority of the project was to rehabilitate and preserve many of the original historic and architectural components, Justin Rogers, the park’s planning and operations director, noted.

Rogers also is Nico’s father.

New portions include a large, bright and airy exhibition hall on the lowest level, two multi-use classrooms in the education building next door and a rooftop garden, Justin Rogers explained. The renovations also entail a history room, a gift shop, two outdoor classrooms, the paved Axtman Trail and a new conference room and offices for teachers and staff to plan educational programs.

Rogers also thanked the hundreds of people who donated money, time and talents to the project.

“We’re thrilled to have it finally finished and have it be an asset to the community for generations to come,” Aaron Young, Mill Creek MetroParks’ executive director, said.

Young noted that $3 million of the $4 million for the project came from private philanthropy, and the rest from Mill Creek MetroParks.

The exhibition hall area, which looks out onto a wildflower meadow and hiking trails, features an array of high-tech, interactive exhibits and poster boards that include information on different native trees, the wetlands area, the Mill Creek Watershed and park geology. Also in the room is an exhibit about Volney Rogers, the well-known lawyer who was pivotal in transforming the park in the late 1800s.

Adding to the overall greenery is the Green Roof Plaza, which has a square garden filled with small-leafed succulents and sedums, hydrangeas and rhizomes, and requires little maintenance. The garden was carefully crafted with rubber layers for additional protection and needs proper drainage, Brian Keith, the park’s operations supervisor, explained.

The square plot also is a microcosm of the Living Roof, a 454,000-square-foot drought-resistant garden atop the Ford Motor Co.’s Rouge Center in Dearborn, Mich., Keith noted.

“To me, it’s just a place for relaxation,” Nancy Brundage said about Nancy’s Nook, a small window-filled room that overlooks a few hiking trails as well as the wildflower meadow and several bird feeders and boxes at the rear of the nature center.

The space was named in honor of Brundage, who was one of the nature center project’s initial donors and who began volunteering for the park in the mid-1980s. For 27 years, she has conducted bird and nature walks; her volunteer efforts also have included booking school groups and answering calls, and she still serves as a volunteer naturalist, Brundage said.

Also happy with the reopening was Eric Cromwell of Poland, who worked three or four years as an attendant at the original Ford Nature Center.

“I’m glad to see they kept a lot of the historical nature of the house,” said Cromwell, who earned a degree in natural resources from Hocking College in Nelsonville.

Also on hand Saturday was Ed Komara, who runs a traveling reptile educational program called Komara Outdoors. Komara had in one of the indoor classrooms an exhibit that included a 120-pound alligator snapping turtle, a leopard tortoise and other animals.

“I came here as a kid to learn about nature and I wanted her to learn about nature,” Eric Cappy of Boardman said, referring to his daughter Ariana McCall-Cappy, 7, who was intrigued by the reptiles.

Read the original article at The Vindicator.

FirstEnergy to plant 700 trees in the Valley

FirstEnergy Corp. is set to donate and plant 700 trees at various locations in the Valley to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day.

FirstEnergy will donate 300 trees to Mill Creek MetroParks. A mixed variety of hardwood trees will be planted on Monday, April 25, by employees of FirstEnergy and its Ohio Edison electric company throughout the MetroParks’ 402-acre farm in Canfield.

In addition to the trees that will be planted at the Mill Creek MetroParks, FirstEnergy plans to donate 400 additional trees to the Poland Municipal Forest on Friday, April 28, to celebrate Arbor Day.

The trees will be planted throughout the property by FirstEnergy employee volunteers next Friday and Saturday.

Since April 2021, FirstEnergy has donated and planted more than 40,000 trees throughout its six-state service territory. This initiative is a part of the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, promote responsible use of natural resources and further the advancement of sustainable practices.

Led by FirstEnergy’s Green Team in northeast Ohio, the Mill Creek MetroParks tree-planting event is one of several projects employees will complete this year to help nearby parks, nature preserves and communities across FirstEnergy’s entire footprint.

This year’s donation of trees to Mill Creek MetroParks complements FirstEnergy’s donation of 600 trees planted at the MetroParks Farm and Collier Preserve over the past two years on Earth Day.

“These trees will help restore forested habitat within the park that we’ve lost over the years, and we look forward to monitoring the trees and helping them along as they mature,” said Nick Derico, natural resources manager at Mill Creek MetroParks. “We appreciate FirstEnergy and Ohio Edison’s ongoing commitment to preserving our local environment so that our trees and wildlife can continue to thrive for many years.”

Read the original article at WKBN.

Experts say spring garden prep is all about the soil

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about getting your gardens ready for the season.

Brian Keith, operation supervisor at Fellows Riverside Gardens, said now is a good time to begin prepping your outdoor areas. This includes cleaning up garden beds, leaves, sticks and any debris that’s been sitting over winter.

It’s also a good time to start preparing and decompacting soil and mixing in compost, but certain kinds may be better than others.

“Organic compost. A lot of suppliers around here carry what’s called leaf compost, stuff like that. That’s one of the best things you can till into your soil, especially if you are doing a vegetable garden,” Keith said.

He says it’s still too cold to plant outside, but some vegetables can be planted indoors now and transplanted later.


Read the original article at WKBN.

Ford Nature Center at Mill Creek Park set to reopen after renovation

Part of Mill Creek Park which has been under renovation for three years is set to reopen.

A ribbon cutting is planned for April 22 for the Ford Nature Center.

When it opens, visitors can see new exhibits, a gift shop and a new bird-watching room. Outside, there will be an outdoor classroom, an amphitheater and a rooftop garden.

Construction cost $4 million — $3 million of which came from the Mill Creek Park Foundation. The rest of the funding came from the park.

Read the original article at WKBN.

Mill Creek Park deer plan shot down

Nick Derico, natural resources manager for the Mill Creek MetroParks, told about 70 people attending Monday’s MetroParks Board meeting that he is proposing the park board carry out a deer removal program under the Ohio Department of Natural Resource Division of Wildlife.

One part would be “controlled hunting” and would involve hunting at “select MetroParks regional facilities throughout the county where it is deemed safe and appropriate.”

That type of deer reduction would involve “select hunters through a random lottery system conducted by the ODNR Division of Wildlife,” the MetroParks said in a press release given to reporters Monday.

Another part would be a “targeted removal program” that would happen at “select MetroParks facilities where controlled hunting is not deemed feasible due to safety concerns,” the MetroParks statement said.

That type of deer reduction would involve “professional marksmen” in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The more than two-hour meeting included 40 minutes of information on the proposed deer reduction program and about 90 minutes of public participation with each person getting three minutes to speak.

The statements during the public-comment period suggested that most of the public does not want to see the number of deer reduced. Many said they believe the park has far fewer than 387 deer per square mile.

Lee Frey, MetroParks Board president, said the board will vote on whether to implement the program at the 6 p.m. April 10 board meeting at the MetroParks Farm in Canfield, where Monday’s meeting took place.

The goal of the program would be to reduce the deer populations to within recommended densities and to restore plant life previously damaged by the “over browsing and other negative impacts associated with an overabundance of white-tailed deer,” the parks system states.

Derico and Aaron Young, MetroParks executive director, have said that the park district has an average of 387 white-tailed deer per square mile in the park system. The number is 355 deer per square mile in Mill Creek Park, which occupies land from Fellows Riverside Gardens to U.S. Route 224.

They have said the data came from an aerial survey carried out in on two dates in early January 2022.

Among the most passionate speakers was Pearl Sinistro, who told the park board members to “listen to the taxpayers. We pay you, our tax dollars.”

“We love the animals. They’re harmless. They’re timid. They don’t do anything. They come in the yard. We feed them.”

She said people who complain that the deer eat their flowers should move to the city.

She said it’s wrong to “blacktop everything” because it shows no respect for nature.

Kathy Maine spoke with emotion about her attachment to specific deer and the deer in general.

“With the ugliness in this world, the wars, the killings, the bombings, why can’t we have something God given that is so beautiful and so heavenly,” she said. “Life is so short. We don’t need to make it shorter for those beautiful deer.”

Michael Colyer said he has gone to Mill Creek Park after work to spend time in nature.

“We need to preserve the whole fauna and protect the trees that protect the birds and everything else. The deer eat all of our gum trees,” he said.


Read the original article at The Vindicator.

Data on Mill Creek Park deer under fire

Mill Creek MetroParks has completed a survey of the deer population in Mill Creek Park and its other properties and has found that it is 19 times higher than the “carrying capacity of the land.”

Nick Derico, MetroParks natural resources manager, said having an average of 387 white-tailed deer per square mile in the park system, including 355 per square mile in Mill Creek Park, indicates “a very serious problem.”

Derico said the recommended density of white-tailed deer is 10 to 20 deer per square mile.

“We have too many deer in relation to available MetroParks property in terms of habitat,” he said.

Derico talked with the MetroParks board and public about the matter Feb. 13, and it will be discussed again March 13, when Derico will make recommendations to the park board on what to do.

In the meantime, the public is encouraged to provide its input on the issue at the www.millcreekmetroparks.org/white-tailed-deer-in-mill-creek-metroparks page on the MetroParks website.

Derico said overpopulation of deer has “significant negative impacts to both the health of the deer population and the ecological biodiversity of the land as well as increased human conflicts,” such as coming into contact with motor vehicles.

A key part of data collection was an aerial, infrared survey carried out at night from an airplane Jan. 21, 2022, in Mill Creek Park and Jan. 26, 2022, in the rest of the MetroParks’ facilities.

The MetroParks has published the results in detail, including specific information on Mill Creek Park — from Fellows Riverside Gardens south to U.S. Route 224 in Boardman. It also includes specific results for the Hitchcock Woods and Huntington Woods areas south of Route 224, and 12 other MetroParks properties throughout the county.

The results show that the highest densities are in the Huntington Woods just south of Route 224 at 592 deer per square mile, Yellow Creek at 674 deer per square mile, Sebring Woods at 607 deer per square mile, Sawmill Creek at 540 deer per square mile and Cranberry Run headwaters at 450 deer per square mile.

Derico said no decision has been made on what to do about the high numbers of deer, but MetroParks officials are discussing that with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which is “the managing authority for wildlife in the state.”

ODNR has indicated options for reducing the deer population include allowing hunters to reduce the population or another type of “targeted removal beyond hunting.”



Aaron Young, MetroParks executive director, said whatever decision is reached, he does not anticipate any herd-reducing activities to affect the three white deer that have been identified in Mill Creek Park, two females and a male.

Derico said two conditions can cause either a full or partial lack of pigment in white-tail deer. One is albinism, in which a deer has an all-white coat, white or see-through hooves, an all-pink nose and pink or pale blue eyes.

He said the three white deer in Mill Creek Park can be described that way.

The second condition is what are called leucistic deer, which have a “partial loss of pigment. They can have an all-white coat, but they commonly retain some level of normal pigmentation in their hooves, noses or in their eyes,” Derico said.

“They would be white deer with normal looking brown eyes,” he said. “That is not the case we are seeing.”

But without genetic testing, which the MetroParks has not done, the park system cannot say for sure whether Mill Creek Park’s white deer are albino, Derico said.

Both types of white deer have “recessive genes and should be very rare” and indicate a problem with the deer population, Derico said.

“The frequency with which that recessive gene is being seen in our herd points to poor genetic diversity, which is caused by inbreeding over time.” It is not an indication that the white deer in the park are unhealthy, Derico said.

The typical prevalence of white deer in a herd is 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 30,000 deer, but for Mill Creek Park to have three of them in a population of about 903 suggests poor genetic diversity, Derico said.

The survey indicated 2,935 deer roamed the MetroParks in January 2022.

Derico said overpopulation of deer in the park is “not necessarily” to blame for possible poor genetic diversity. “It’s more showing there may not be a lot of immigration or emigration in the population at the north end of the park.”

He said, “As the population grows and there is no new genetic material coming into the population, inbreeding is taking place and these rare recessive genes are being seen more frequently.”

Derico has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from the former California University of Pennsylvania, now known as Pennsylvania Western University, in California, Pa., south of Pittsburgh.

He said the point is that the “frequency of these rare genetic conditions is concerning in terms of genetic diversity.”

He said the park has had “numerous” white deer over the years and generally has had one or two born each spring.

Young said a concern is that with the lack of genetic diversity in the north part of Mill Creek Park, inbreeding may be affecting the health of the deer. “Inbreeding over time can cause other genetic issues,” Derico said. Among them are chronic wasting disease, epizootic hemorrhage disease, Lyme disease and other tick-born pathogens, according to a MetroParks presentation.

Jamey Emmert, spokeswoman for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, told this newspaper last summer that “White deer are a product of a recessive gene in both the mother’s and father’s DNA, which result in white offspring. This recessive genetic trait is found in about 1 percent of all white-tail deer.”



But other factors suggest overpopulation of deer in MetroParks properties, Derico said.

A big one is the ecological damage to plants. Deer feed on a variety of woody and herbaceous plants but have preferred species they like to eat, like spring wildflowers, Derico said.

“When deer are overabundant, they gravitate toward those preferred species and disproportionately impact those species, effectively removing them from the landscape,” Derico said. “Oftentimes what are left are plants that are unpalatable to deer.”

It leads to a high prevalence of invasive species, he said. Overpopulation of deer also leads to a “browse line” where the deer have eaten the vegetation from about 5 feet down.

“They can strip the forest understory of growth,” Derico said. “As sapling trees begin to grow, they get browsed to the ground and killed immediately, so there is no intermediate story of succession coming up through our forest right now. So we are missing an entire generation of forest growth right now due to deer browsing.”

The MetroParks has been experimenting in Hitchcock Woods for five years with a deer-proof enclosure to show what the park would look like if deer were not able to browse.

“We’re seeing ecological damage throughout all of our properties,” he said. “As the MetroParks, we’re stewards of the land. It’s our responsibility to manage these properties in the best interest of all species to promote biodiversity and encourage native species.”

He said deer overbrowsing is a problem throughout the nation, “so many people think that is completely normal and they just don’t realize what it really should be like.”

When plant life is negatively affected, it “affects a multitude of other species, mammals, birds, infections, amphibians … because they’re missing habitat,” Derico said. A bird called the wood thrush used to nest in the MetroParks, but they don’t anymore “because their habitat is gone,” he said. “That’s just one example.”

When Derico was asked about the point of view some people may have that enjoying the deer is the most important thing, Derico said “It’s our job … to protect these parcels and it’s important now for future generations. What will happen to future generations if there is no forest succession?” Derico said.

Read the original article at The Vindicator.

Deer count is overestimated, wildlife watcher argues

Mill Creek MetroParks’ deer numbers are wrong, Mickey Drabison of Youngstown said.

He led a group of people on a walk in Mill Creek Park on Feb. 19 to look at the deer population after they heard MetroParks officials talk about overpopulation of deer. The group plans another walk today.

He said the reason for the walks is to show people and let them decide for themselves whether the deer are overpopulating. He said he believes the number the MetroParks has given — 387 per square mile — is not accurate.

He thinks the number is much less.

The group will be back out again today from 10 a.m. to noon for another look starting near the parking areas across from the Mill Creek Golf course, which is on West Golf Drive.

The group previously walked north of the golf course near the Morley Pavilion and the Lily Pond and did not see deer, but Drabison said the area near the golf course has more. He said the area where the group walked Feb. 19 generally has two herds of five deer each. “And another group of six that come up and do their eating.”

He was surprised his group did not see any deer, but noted dogs do scare them off.

Drabison, who lives close to the park, said he has walked nearly every day in the park for the past 10 years. He said he typically sees about 15 or 20 deer in a few herds.

“I follow the white deer,” he said. A white deer named Faith is in that area, he said.

He said 387 deer in a square mile “comes down to 10 herds of 38 deer per square mile. I’ve never seen deer like that in this place. There are deer, but their number is not quite right, in my opinion,” Drabison said of the MetroParks.

“These people out here see it. I see it,” Drabison said of the real number of deer. He said he does not have personal knowledge of the deer population south of U.S. Route 224.

He said he is familiar with area from McCollum Road to Shields Road and thinks there are maybe 100 deer in that area, which is about 4 miles long.

“I could walk you or draw you a map and show you right where they are at. You could go there and see the deer I am talking about. That’s it,” he said. He thinks more are south of Shields Road near the golf course, where he saw a herd of about 16 deer about a month ago.

“That’s the biggest herd I’ve ever seen there,” Drabison said. “The rest are maybe six or seven walking around together.”



Drabison said he disagrees if the MetroParks is saying that the white deer in Mill Creek Park are albino deer. “There is not an albino deer in the park. There hasn’t been,” he said.

A leucistic deer can be all-white coat — but commonly retain some level of normal pigmentation in their hooves, noses or in their eyes.

One named Queenie died in 2021 at Schenley Avenue and Bear’s Den Road. Drabison found the deer after it died. He saw her born — one of 11 deer he has seen born in the park. Her death was related to not being able to birth a calf.

“The deer trust me,” he said.

Queenie was not an albino because she had yellow eyes, Drabison said. She was healthy except for a two-week issue with parasites.

Drabison said he believes the presence of a white deer like Queenie does not indicate any genetic issues that would suggest overpopulation of deer, because he believes white deer are “just like the brown deer” in their health.

He’s heard the argument that vegetation is being destroyed by the deer, but doubts that, too. The only type of damage he hears about or observes, he said, is deer coming into yards and eating flowers.

Drabison said he thinks the MetroParks is making plans to reduce the deer population to get money from allowing hunters to reduce the herd.



Nick Derico, MetroParks natural resources manager, was asked about Drabison’s opinion about the park district’s data on the number of deer.

A key part of data collection was an aerial, infrared survey carried out at night from an airplane Jan. 21, 2022, in Mill Creek Park and Jan. 26, 2022, in the rest of the park’s facilities.

Derico said the type of survey done for the MetroParks numbers has been “used for years, even the late 1900s,” and in the 2000s the park district did the same type of survey.

He said the surveyor who provided the data “went painstakingly for months, going through the data. Each (thermal) signature gets evaluated based on its size, its shape, its habit, meaning if there is a heat signature in the middle of Lake Newport, that’s not a deer. And then deer do give off a distinctive thermal characteristic based on how heat is reflected off of their coats,” Derico said.

He said the thermal imaging camera “can (or) will pick up more than just deer, but each signature was evaluated on its own merit and determined whether it was consistent with a deer.” He said there is a “confidence interval” of 85 percent, meaning the surveyor is “85 percent or more confident in his results,” Derico said.

He said the snow-covered, cold weather the two nights of the survey were ideal for the survey. The surveyor flew at about 1,100 feet, providing “great survey conditions,” Derico said. “We’re confident in the survey numbers. We don’t know what to tell people who don’t believe them.”

Derico noted that people are allowed to be in the MetroParks only during the day, not at night, and deer “are most active in the evening and at dawn and dusk and throughout the night. They bed during the day, typically.” They do sometimes feed even at mid-day but not typically.

“If you are walking in daylight on a trail, as you should be, there are plenty of areas where deer could be obscured from your vision,” Derico said. The way a person might walk in the park “is certainly not a comprehensive look at all areas of the MetroParks.”

When Derico was asked about Drabison’s theory that the MetroParks would reduce the deer herd to make money off of a hunt, he responded: “Absolutely not. Quite the opposite. There is no financial gain for the MetroParks through any of the methods (of reducing the herd.) In fact, it’s cost the MetroParks to gather this survey data and staff time to look into the issue. There is no financial motivation.”

Aaron Young, MetroParks executive director, said that “to imply that we are only looking at the deer overpopulation because of financial gain is simply inaccurate.” Young said the MetroParks will not decide what method would be used to reduce the herd until it hears the input from the public.

The MetroParks is trying to educate the public on this issue through the web site where the public can provide input at www.millcreekmetroparks.org/white-tailed-deer-in-mill-creek-metroparks, Young said.

“The presentation (Derico) gave at the last meeting (Feb. 13) was the culmination of two years of data collection,” Young said.

The MetroParks wants to create a white-tail deer management plan, which exists in many other park districts in northeast Ohio, Derico said.

The MetroParks board again will discuss the issue March 13. Derico will make recommendations to the park board on what to do.

Read the original article at The Vindicator.

Mill Creek MetroParks seeking public assistance in deer population issue

Mill Creek MetroParks is seeking the public’s input to help with the deer population within the MetroParks.

According to data released by the parks, Mill Creek is averaging 387 deer per square mile. The recommended population density is 10 to 20 deer per square mile.

Yellow Creek Park in Struthers averages the most deer per square mile, with 674, and Sebring Woods following second with 607 deer per square mile.

Data found in the study concluded that the deer population within the park is 19 times the recommended carrying capacity, which can lead to significant negative impacts to both the health of the deer population and the ecological biodiversity of the land as well as increased human conflicts.

Due to the deer population, the parks is working towards the development of a long-term management plan to address the issue, and is asking the community for their input.

To provide input to the park, members of the community can log onto the MetroParks website to provide feedback and comment on the issue.

They also have a QR code available to scan on their website.

Read the original article at WFMJ.

Albino deer signal problem in park’s growing deer population

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Monday night the Board of Park Commissioners for Mill Creek MetroParks met to discuss the area’s growing white-tailed deer population.

During a special presentation, the park’s natural resource manager laid out problems the area is facing because it is beyond the sustainable number of deer.

Some experts think that the population density of deer here in the area is the highest in the state.

Nick Derico has been monitoring the deer population in all the Mill Creek Metro Parks for several years.

Mill Creek MetroParks average 387 deer per square mile. According to a series of studies conducted by the Parks, Yellow Creek Park has the highest population density at 674 deer per square mile.

“That ideal range should be more in the 10 to 20 deer per square mile,” Derico said. “We’re currently the only county park district not addressing the deer populations.”

Derico says he currently knows of three albino deer living in the parks. As much as people love seeing them, their prevalence is an indication of poor herd health and possible inbreeding.

“The white deer is very culturally significant to the area,” Derico said. “They’re very cool to see. Very beautiful. But it should be a very rare sight. Albinism should be one in 20,000 or maybe as high as one in 30,000 deer under normal circumstances.”

The parks are still considering the best ways to lower the deer population. They want input from the public. They will meet again next month to discuss their options.

Read the original article at WKBN.