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

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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New restroom open at Mill Creek boat launch

Bikers, hikers and other people enjoying Mill Creek MetroParks have a new spot to stop at when nature calls.

A new comfort station is now open at the East Newport Boat Launch.

This concrete vault restroom and concrete walkway meets Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines and addresses the need for a restroom facility at the boat launch as well as the East Newport Hike & Bike Trail.

The total cost of the improvements is approximately $28,000.

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Unifying Youngstown through art

Unity is the theme of a Youngstown City Schools Visual and Performing Arts project that will soon be showcased at Fellows Riverside Gardens.

“Each building is making a collaborative painting,” explained Tracy Schuler Vivo, school district Visual and Performing Art coordinator. “It brings everyone together in the district.”

Students in both elementary and high schools had the opportunity to contribute to the Unity Project, painting in their own way on 3-foot by 4-foot canvases donated by the TIMBRE Group of Youngstown.

There will be 12 paintings total.

The paintings are set to be on display at Mill Creek MetroPark’s Fellows Riverside Garden Davis Center from Jan. 9-31. An open reception to meet the students and teachers behind the project will be at the Davis Center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16.

Each painting will be accompanied by a quote explaining each building’s take on unity.

For example, Martin Luther King Elementary’s piece titled “Creating Together” is accompanied by art teacher Christine Williams’s quote, “Together we create.”

The piece is made up of a series of lines, symbols, letters and more – each from every art student in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Quenci Duckworth, 8, said her symbol was based on her goals for the future – to be a beautician.

She was excited to share a piece of herself with everyone else.

“I like that we all get to do this together because we’ve never done something like this before,” Quenci said.

Williams echoed Quenci’s sentiment.

“The kids like seeing a visual representation of their drawing in with the whole project,” she said. “It’s just nice – the fact that everyone is included, and we get to show the community that we are all part of something together.”

Other projects include visual representations of the blending of various cultures.

Choffin Career and Technical Center’s project, titled “Unity has no boundaries,” is accompanied by the following message: “When we have unity in our neighborhoods and communities, we can move barriers, mountains and even the world.

“Streets can become endless and the fences and barriers that once divided us no longer can be seen in our sights.”

The painting displays a road, with fence posts on each side and a white and black hand joining in the center sleeved with flags from several nations.

For information about the VPA Unity Project or VPA, contact Schuler Vivo at 330-744-8830 or

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