Fellows Riverside Gardens transforms into “Toyland” for annual “Winter Celebration”

Bright colors, sparkling lights and whimsical displays will greet anyone who visits Fellows Riverside Gardens this month.

The Gardens’ annual Winter Celebration runs through Dec. 31.

After a couple of years featuring more natural themes, such as last year’s focus on Mill Creek MetroParks’ 125th anniversary, Gardens staff and volunteers opted for something a little more playful with this year’s “Toyland” theme.

Toys, both modern and vintage, are on display. Giant game pieces and 10-foot toy soldiers line windows and walls. More than 50 trees, decorated by different Mahoning Valley organizations, adorn the building. Also, visitors are invited to play with some of the displays.

“This is very interactive for children. We have different stations throughout the building where kids can play with blocks,” said Andrew Pratt, Mill Creek MetroParks gardens director. “What I like about it is, it has a nostalgic feel to it so people of all ages can see some of the vintage toys we have, and young children can come and see some of the more modern toys.”

MetroParks volunteers and staff were hard at work this week decorating the D.D. and Velma Davis Education & Visitor Center.

Planning for the event, however, dates back to the summer. Since then, a group of volunteers met twice a week to organize for Winter Celebration.

Among them was Sharmon Lesnak of Youngstown, whose professional background makes her an ideal person to help decorate for the holidays. Lesnak worked for 43 years in visual merchandising, preparing displays for department stores such as Strouss and Macy’s.

“There is a science to colors and how you present things. I just drew on all of those things,” said Lesnak, who helped devise the “Toyland” theme. “I just enjoy the creative process, and if I can make somebody smile, it’s all worthwhile.”

The process is creative, indeed – Pratt estimated that approximately 75 percent of the display items were hand-crafted by volunteers.

In addition to decorations in the visitor center, trees in the Gardens will be decorated and lights will be on display.

A number of other holiday events are scheduled at the Gardens, as well. For a full schedule, visit www.millcreekmetroparks.org.

Breakfast with Santa, hosted by Inspired Catering by Kravitz, will take place Saturday. Seats are still available at the 9 and 11:30 a.m. events.

Fellows is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, with hours extended to 7 p.m. Saturdays this month for Winter Celebration Nights.

Pratt encouraged people to stop by the Gardens to check out the holiday festivities.

“It’s fun. It’s festive. It’s the holidays, and it’s just a good time of the year to come out here,” he said.

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