Outside media coverage of Mill Creek MetroParks

Mill Creek Park still looking for $1 million to renovate Ford Nature Center


Four years ago, Mill Creek MetroParks announced plans to renovate the Ford Nature Center. But, the park system is still $1 million short of the money needed to get it done.

It’s been a long fundraising effort which, if all goes as planned, should end in the next few months.

Looking at some of the park’s drawings can give you an idea of what a renovated Ford Nature Center will look like.

“As you move around to the back of the building, you’ll see some dramatic changes,” said Mill Creek Development Director Chris Litton.

The back of Judge John Ford’s 106-year-old house will be the focal point of the renovation, with a landscaped patio on top of a new exhibit space built into the hill.

The exterior will be cleaned and the carriage house transformed into an education center. Inside is where, since 1972, students have been taught about nature. It too will be redone with new stairs and an elevator added.

“It’s a $3 million project. We’ve raised $1 million over the course of the last year and we received a million dollar match from the Sand Hill Foundation of Menlo Park, California,” Litton said.

Sand Hill is run by the daughter-in-law of the late Judge Ford, who lived in the house and gave it to the park. When she heard the house was going to be preserved, she wanted the Ford family to be a part of it.

That leaves $1 million still to be raised, which Litton admits is a lot of money. But, he hopes to have it done by spring.

“People love Mill Creek and love the Ford Nature Center, so we’re very optimistic that we’ll reach that goal,” he said.

The renovation won’t start until all the money is there.

“We’ll start when we have the full $3 million in pledges,” Litton said.

It’s possible some park money could eventually be used, but not $1 million worth.

“We can put park money towards it, but we want to see how much we can raise of the remaining million,” Litton said.

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Fellows Riverside Garden hosts annual winter celebration

The Mill Creek MetroParks are celebrating Fellow Riverside Garden’s 60th anniversary during their annual Winter Celebration.

This year’s celebration has a “Frozen in Time” theme to celebrate the diamond anniversary of the facility.

Jaime Yohman, the park’s Community Engagement Director, said that annually non-profit organizations purchase 60 trees spread throughout the facility to decorate during the event.

“It’s a community event, and we have a large response from the community throughout the month of December,” Yohman said.

Along with the annual tree walk to celebrate the anniversary, the committee created a memory wall.

“We reached out to the community and asked for any pictures of the gardens throughout the years,” said Sharmon Lesnak, the head volunteer for the event. Lesnak, along with Pam Nock and Debbie Walker, organized the event and coordinated the volunteers.

“We really want to thank the volunteers. They’re great and this would not be possible without them,” Lesnak said.

The planning for the event begins in early June when the committee starts organizing work shop days. During the workshops, Lesnak said they hand-make ornaments to use during the month of December to decorate the gardens.

This year, Lesnak and other committee members used plastic bottles and permanent markers to hand make ornaments for the event. All supplies were donated by community members and created by volunteers.

“It’s a huge undertaking every year,” Yohman said. “But Sharmon is very creative and we always have a beautiful turn out.”

The event will also feature characters from Disney’s “Frozen” to fit the theme.

Sister’s Anna and Elsa will make an appearance on Saturdays during December for children and their families to enjoy.

“It’s really a big community event,” Lesnak said. “We always try to have something for the kids to enjoy.”

Along with the tree walk and the visits from Disney characters, the event will feature a number of musicians to entertain community members. The community is also invited to bring a donation of non perishable food that the park will give to the Second Harvest food bank at the end of the event. Kravitz Deli will also offer food specials throughout December at their Garden Cafe.

“Community members can come in, see the lights and have a nice meal at the cafe,” Yohman said. “It’s really a great event everyone seems to have fun.”

Frozen in Time will run through Dec. 30 at Fellows Riverside Garden, with the garden staying open till 7 p.m. on Saturdays to accommodate guests.

“We really owe so much of this to the lovely volunteers,” Lesnak said. “Without them none of this would be possible.”

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Mill Creek Receives $500K for Ford Nature Center Renovation

Mill Creek MetroParks has received $500,000 from the Florence Simon Beecher & John D. Finnegan Foundations to support the renovation of Ford Nature Center.

The donation will be used to renovate the carriage house, which will serve as an education building and the hub of group tours. For the donation, the carriage house will be named the Beecher Finnegan Education Building.

“This building will serve as the gateway to learning about the natural wonders of the world for thousands of local school children each year. Its impact on not only the Ford Nature Center but the entire MetroParks will be felt for generations to come,” said MetroParks director of development Chris Litton in a release.

So far, a third of the $3 million cost for the renovation project has been raised. The Sand Hill Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., will match donations made after Nov. 1, 2018, up to $1 million.

Ford Nature Center was donated to Mill Creek MetroParks in 1968 by Tom and Susan Ford, the children of the late Judge John W. Ford. The building, designed by architect Charles F. Owsley, briefly served as the park’s administrative office before being converted to Ford Nature Center in 1972.

Each year, more than 14,000 students visit the center, Litton said, to take part in its exhibits, programs, walking trails and special events.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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Renovation project at Mill Creek receives $500,000

The Ford Nature Center at Mill Creek MetroParks announces it has received a $500,000 contribution toward renovations. 

The Florence Simon Beecher & John D. Finnegan Foundations combined to make the donation to the $3 million project. 

This donation will directly benefit the renovation work on the carriage house which will serve as an education building, a central hub of all school-based and group tours of the Ford Nature Center upon completion. 

The MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners has elected to name the completed structure “The Beecher Finnegan Education Building,” in the donor’s honor. 

“Our grateful appreciation goes out to the Florence Simon Beecher & John D. Finnegan Foundations for their generous contribution to the new Education Building at the Ford Nature Center. This building will serve as the gateway to learning about the natural wonders of the world for thousands of local school children each year. Its impact on not only the Ford Nature Center but the entire MetroParks will be felt for generations to come,” says Chris Litton, Mill Creek MetroParks Director of Development.

The project has currently raised $1 million of the $3 million goal, and The Sand Hill Foundation of Menlo Park, California has offered a challenge grant which will match donations raised after November 1 up to $1 million.

View the full article at wfmj.com

Mill Creek Park plans renovations for Ford Nature Center

Mill Creek Park aimed to collect the money needed to renovate the Ford Nature Center on Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27.

Chris Litton, the director of development, said that the center hasn’t received serious renovations for 25 years.

“The renovations are much needed,” Litton said.

To help them reach this goal, the park received a matching grant from the Sand Hill Foundation in California.

Litton said Sand Hill would match every dollar raised by the park up to $1 million to benefit the center.

“We have never really done this before,” Litton said. “This is a first for us.”

The park was able to raise $7,423 on Tuesday which will be matched by the grant to total $14,846.

Litton said the largest donation of $5,000, came from Thomas and Katherine Shipka.

“We are very grateful to the Shipka’s for their generous and continued support of the Mill Creek MetroParks Foundation,” Litton said.

The Ford Nature Center opened in 1972 and is the epicenter of education programs for the park.

Currently housed in the center are the Habitat Room, the Discovery Room and a Live Animal Room.

Children are able to travel to the center to learn about local animals, their habitats and other aspects of the nature in the park.

The center also houses a teachers’ resource center, which has a range of books, videos and other materials for local teachers to use in their class rooms.

The center offers a variety of programs for school age children throughout the year, marking it as one of the most utilized buildings in the Mill Creek Park.

Litton said construction on the center will likely begin in Spring 2019.

“It’s an important building and it needs the renovations,” Litton said.

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Mill Creek MetroParks invites community to celebrate holiday season


Mill Creek MetroParks invites guests to celebrate the holiday seasons at Fellows Riverside Gardens.

Volunteers set up 60 trees along with lights and decorations through the Davis Center. 

This year’s theme, Frozen in Time, is a celebration of the garden’s 60th anniversary. 

One woman said the event is enjoyable for the whole family.

“It’s fun to bring all the little cousins, so that they can see, you know, all the themes every year and it’s a good tradition,” said Mya Agee.

There’s also scavenger hunts and live music.

The activities are free to the public and will continue Tuesday through Sunday every week in December from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

There is also Winter Nights on Saturdays, which includes extended hours until 7 p.m. and an outdoor light display.

For more information, call 330-740-7116.

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Mill Creek brought Tolnar home to Valley

Hubbard native Brian Tolnar has made a number of stops during his golf career.

Since 1996, Tolnar has been assistant golf pro Alliance Country Club and Tippecanoe Country Club, either head professional or PGA Director of Golf at Steubenville Country Club, Avalon Lakes, Triple Creek Golf Club and the Golf Club at Blue Heron Hills in Macedon, N.Y.

But after spending a little more than 10 years as a golf professional in Rochester, N.Y., the opportunity to return home and become PGA Director of Golf at Mill Creek was just too good to pass up.

Tolnar told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center that after 22 years in the business, he’s having more fun now than he has ever had.

“I said it during the interview process over four years ago and I still believe it today, that there was only one job in the Mahoning Valley that I would come home for and that was Mill Creek,” he said. “The reason I said that then was because the sky is the limit here and it has a ton of upside and potential.

“I need to thank Aaron Young, MetroParks executive director for giving me the opportunity and the tools necessary to be successful. I couldn’t be happier to be here and be aligned with such a great core of people. It’s truly and honor and I’m excited to be a part of the team.”

Tolnar said there are two things, self-reliance and commitment, which stand out as to why he chose golf as a sport and career.

“With self-reliance, you can only depend on yourself and the time you put in if you expect to be successful. In other sports, your teammates can pick you up but it’s all on you in golf,” he said. “You need to have a strong will and the commitment to achieve success. On the golf course, it’s about practice, dedication and putting in the time and effort as a player.

“When running a million-dollar operation, it’s about the commitment of your management team and fellow co-workers, doing things that other facilities and staffs are unwilling to do like providing service, opportunities and hosting events.”

Tolnar came to Mill Creek with two goals in mind.

“First and foremost, I wanted to know how we could make a major impact in the local community,” he said. “Then, I wanted to know how best we could showcase the MetroParks through the game of golf. With those two objectives at the forefront of my list, I felt as though we could make the people of the Mahoning Valley proud of what they have, as well as the importance the MetroParks plays in their lives in providing recreational opportunities.”

He added that the upside to Mill Creek Golf Course was second to none.

“I felt that Mill Creek, with a Donald Ross design, was a sleeping giant with tremendous upside,” Tolnar said. “Player development needed a boost, but a solid marketing campaign and facility promotion to build presence has helped. We have such a great history and that just added to the potential for hosting future events.”

In addition to hosting The Vindicator’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley as well as its junior tournament, the course has also hosted the highly successful AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) tournament, among others.

“The AJGA has played host to the junior careers of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and Stacie Lewis, to name a few,” Tolnar added. “We worked on gaining national exposure by hosting and AJGA junior tournament through connections in Rochester and last year’s event had a $414,000 impact locally. Since hosting the event in 2016, the area has realized a $1.218 million impact while raising an additional $32,000 for local charities, the AJGA Ace Grant & MCMP Foundation.”

Tolnar has helped launch a five-year capital improvement campaign to reinvest in their facility and credits local PGA professionals Dave Coller, Dave Boos and Michael Spiech for their help and support along the way.

He also called his team, which consists of head professionals Stacie Butler and Andy Santor, and course superintendent Lance Bailey the best professional golf team in the Mahoning Valley.

Tolnar is the 2018 PGA Certification for Player Development and Northern Ohio PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year honoree, adding his group will launch their Growth of the Game Initiative with its Let’s Play Golf Youngstown, a three-tier initiative to include instruction for beginners, intermediate and advanced players.

Next week, sports talk host Mark “Munch” Bishop of iHeart Media Sports will serve as guest speaker.

View the full article at vindy.com

Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas at the Mill continues Sunday

Christmas is a month away, but perhaps Holly Edwards has already received the gift that will be the most meaningful and personal.

“These are the initials of my late father,” the Canfield woman said, referring to “SRW,” which stands for Sam R. Wagner, who died after having received hospice care.

Edwards had the three letters stamped on a personalized leather bracelet she bought, which was complemented with butterflies, as a way to honor her father’s legacy, thanks to having attended the annual Olde Fashioned Christmas at the Mill gathering Saturday afternoon in Mill Creek MetroParks’ Lanterman’s Mill.

The six-hour family-friendly holiday-themed event continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the mill.

The traditional, old-fashioned holiday celebration features 15 local and regional vendors, crafters and artisans such as tinsmiths, woodcarvers and leather makers. Also included is musical entertainment, along with a magician and comedian, noted Carol Vigorito, the park’s recreation and education director.

“The focus is on being old-fashioned, and we decorate to the hilt. It’s our last weekend open [until spring] and people come out to enjoy the holiday atmosphere and give something back,” she said.

Also, attendees are encouraged to donate hats, mittens, scarves, gloves and other winter wear to a Giving Tree. The items will go to the Mahoning County Educational Service Center to be distributed to some of that agency’s clients, Vigorito explained.

Accompanying Holly were her husband, David Edwards, as well as daughters Samantha, 6; Sophia, 10; and Madison, 13. Samantha also had a bracelet made bearing her nickname, Sammie.

Christmas will be spent with both sides of the family, David added.

Making the bracelets is Kathy Bowman of Austintown, a self-taught crafter who first wets the small leather straps, then uses a poly mallet to stamp the letters in place. She also adds touches that are personal to each buyer, she said.

“I started doing it in 1989 by making wallets, purses, all kinds of stuff … but I always did bracelets,” recalled Bowman, whose daughter, Shawne Wilfong, assisted.

A sample of merchandise for sale in Lanterman’s Mill includes T-shirts emblazoned with Youngstown landmarks, prints of the mill, a variety of scented soaps, candles and room sprays, coffee mugs, tart burners and arrowheads. Also on hand for those with a touch of nostalgia is the popular book “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer” by Rick Shale and Charles J. Jacques Jr.

Those who desire to spice up their kitchens a bit likely found much to their liking, courtesy of Gregg and Deb Kristophel of Harmony, Pa.

The couple runs a 33-year-old business called Riverwood Trading Co. that specializes in selling treenware, which is essentially any wooden utensil used mainly in the kitchen, Gregg explained.

He uses electric sanders, band saws and other hand tools to design and make carvings on cuts of mainly cherry wood, which are converted to items he has for sale that include salt, mixing, strainer and saucepot spoons, four-piece utensil sets, spatulas, dippers and coffee scoops. The items also are specially designed for those who are left- or right-handed.

“I work in my shop six or seven days a week,” said Gregg, who also was a self-taught and self-employed carpenter.

In addition, they take part in about 35 craft and other related shows each year, Deb added.

Many people have used phrases such as “a diamond in the rough” to describe what they see as the aesthetic beauty of Mill Creek Park, so it’s probably not a stretch to surmise that some found C. Scott Lanz’s photographs quite pleasing.

Lanz, of Boardman, an attorney and an avid nature photographer who runs a 13-year-old business called LanzScape Photography Ltd., has for sale numerous prints and photos on canvas, many of which are taken in Mill Creek Park during all four seasons.

He also is selling 2019 calendars that feature some of his photography around the park.

View the full article at vindy.com

Santa brings animals to MetroParks Farm to delight of kids

Five-year-old Theodore Sapp and his father, Tom, didn’t exactly hammer out the terms of a major treaty or piece of legislation, but the compromise of sorts they came up with resulted in early holiday cheer for both.

“He had a big list, and he practiced what he’d say and ask for” while waiting in line to meet Santa Claus, the Canfield man said about his son, a C.H. Campbell Preschool student.

Theodore was among the many youngsters who excitedly waited in a long line to climb into a bright-red sleigh in which sat St. Nick, who was one of the central attractions of the annual Santa’s Winter Barn event Sunday afternoon at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road (state Route 46).

For his arrival in the Mahoning Valley, Santa brought not only the traditional reindeer but other animals not usually associated with him. They consisted of a donkey, a goat and a miniature cow, all of which were sources of added joy for many of the hundreds of attendees who had waited in a line that snaked out the door of the unheated barn to see and have their pictures taken with St. Nick, as well as next to the animals.

The four-hour family-oriented gathering, which takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving, also offered people an opportunity to make crafts for their Christmas trees, said Brenda Markley, Mill Creek MetroParks’ agriculture and education manager.

In addition, the celebration marked the farm’s final event before it closes for the winter and reopens in April, Markley said.

When he met Santa, Theodore handed him a piece of paper on which was written a letter that listed the gifts he wanted most: a set of Hot Wheels cars, Minecraft (a popular game that allows players to use blocks to go on various adventures) and Starlink: Battle for Atlas (an action-adventure video game). Beforehand, the child and his father worked on the letter, which also entailed condensing the list of what Theodore could ask for, Tom explained.

“I told him the letters and he wrote the letter down. He picked out the toys he wanted,” Tom continued.

Also relishing the festivities was Theodore’s mother, Krista, who said the family’s holiday plans likely will include Theodore dressing up for a part in a Nativity re-enactment at his church. The boy also intends to leave a plate of gingerbread cookies – possibly with a few sweet embellishments – for Santa’s visit to their home on Christmas morning, Krista added.

Also making it obvious that they are part of the Santa Claus fan club were sisters Gabby Gaetano, 6, and Paisley Gaetano, 8 months, whose shirts read “I love Santa” and “Santa’s sweetheart,” respectively.

“She said her sister wanted baby toys,” said the siblings’ mother, Theresa Valek of Canfield, referring to what Gabby told Santa during their visit.

One of Gabby’s requests was Beanie Boos, which are stuffed animals that are smaller versions of the famous Beanie Bears and perhaps best known for their large, round eyes, Theresa explained. Gabby’s having sat on St. Nick’s lap for the first time was a big accomplishment for the youngster because of her initial fear of St. Nick, her mother continued.

Theresa added she will host the Christmas festivities at her home for the first time, which will consist largely of celebrating the traditions of a holiday dinner and opening gifts.

Santa also welcomed sisters Sydney Patrone, 9, and Savana Patrone, 12, of Madison, who accompanied their 5-year-old cousin, Racole Turney, of Youngstown in the sleigh.

To reinforce their sense of the holiday spirit, many children and adults bought ornament craft kits for $1 apiece. The activity allowed participants to peel foam Santa Claus heads, snowmen and other Christmas-related cut-outs and attach them to backings, then thread ribbons through holes in the ornaments and tie the ends together to make a hanger for placing them on Christmas trees.

Designing the crafts also was valuable because it encouraged a greater feeling of family togetherness, observed Carolyn Oberle, a Mill Creek Park volunteer who oversaw the activity.

“In this day and age, [family] is very important,” she added.

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Mill Creek officers honored for rescue

The Mill Creek MetroParks board recognized two of the park’s police officers at the board’s Monday meeting.

Officer Peter Katsaras and Sgt. Robert Vukovich were honored for finding a 3-year-old boy who went missing during the park’s annual Pumpkin Walk Oct. 14 at Fellows Riverside Gardens.

Although about 10,000 people attended the 21/2-hour event, Katsaras and Vukovich were able to reunite the child with his parents.

The officers’ families were present at the meeting.

“Part of the uniqueness of it is they both have children about the same age as the child that was missing, so I think it hit home for them both,” said police Chief Jim Willock.

“Congratulations and thank you again,” park commissioner Germaine Bennett said.

The board also received an update on the park’s $3 million Ford Nature Center Redevelopment campaign.

After being awarded a $1 million challenge grant from the Sand Hill Foundation, the campaign has about $1 million left to raise.

“We’re very optimistic. We’ve identified probably about half of that already, so we just have to close,” said development director Chris Litton.

View the full article at vindy.com