Mill Creek Park improvements coming

Mill Creek MetroParks enthusiasts may notice changes around the park system as the year progresses.

Multiple capital improvement projects are on the calendar, including the renovation of the Ford Nature Center, with a capital campaign project aimed at $3 million.

Throughout the rest of the year, multiple improvement projects totaling $1.9 million are scheduled.

“It’s going to be a big year,” said Steve Avery, former planning and operations director, who recently retired.

Following the Ford Nature Center project, Avery said Wick Recreation Area will see sprucing up, with a cost of $500,000.

As “unexciting” as that project may sound, “it is exciting” as a new maintenance facility will be constructed, which will be used for storage and equipment servicing, Avery said.

The warming house, which Avery described as “a nice, relatively historic structure,” will be renovated. The warming house, which has been utilized as a maintenance facility, will house various programs upon completion.

Next on the improvements list in terms of cost are road improvements, for $350,000.

East Newport Drive, from Shields Road to Kreider’s Entrance, will be improved, while Valley Drive from East Park Drive to the suspension bridge will see improvements.

Partially funded by the biennial Ohio Department of Transportation road tax allocation, storm drainage and pipe replacement will occur, along with guardrail improvements, asphalt paving, pavement markings and aggregate shoulders.

The next costly project is cart path paving at Mill Creek Golf Course, with $325,000 set aside.

Paving will take place “substantially on the south course,” Avery said. Some years ago, aggregate cart paths were constructed, and now this year those paths, totaling about 2.6 miles, will be paved.

Fellows Riverside Garden, also known as “the rose garden,” will see a brand new structure that will serve as the outdoor educational building.

Avery said the proposed structure will be constructed in the Children’s Garden.

This project received the core of its funding through private funds, Avery said. About $200,000 comes from the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens endowment fund.

One unique project will cover a distance, Avery said.

General annual trail improvements will be underway, costing $175,000.

Resurfacing the MetroParks Bikeway will include asphalt repair and paving, and aggregate shoulders.

The bikeway goes from Trumbull County through Austintown, into Canfield where it ends at Western Reserve Road. Two miles of the bikeway are anticipated to be worked on, Avery said.

Smaller projects are included in the trail improvements category, including the bridge construction at the Hitchcock Woods Hiking Trail, maintenance at the Vickers Nature Preserve and East Golf Hike and Bike Trail.

Other projects slated for 2020 throughout Mill Creek MetroParks are:

• Parking lot improvements for $150,000;

• Signage improvements for $25,000;

• Pavilion improvements at Old Log Cabin and Scholl Pavilion for $25,000;

• Comfort station improvements at the Lily Pond for $50,000;

• Bridge improvements on Old Orchard Bridge for $200,000;

• Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Mill Creek Preserve improvements for $40,000;

• McGuffey Wildlife Preserve improvements for $50,000;

• Other Fellows Riverside Gardens improvements for $75,000.

Professional consultant services were budgeted, including $150,000 for the Ford Nature Center, $35,000 for the Wick Recreation Area maintenance facility, and $50,000 for the Wick Recreation Area warming house.

Mill Creek MetroParks has 12 locations that span over seven townships, three cities and one village.

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Longtime park director retires

Today marks the end of an era for Mill Creek MetroParks and its planning and operations director Steve Avery.

After 31 years with the park, Avery is retiring.

“I’m blessed I could be at one place for that long for one career,” Avery said.

His story began more than 35 years ago, when he attended The Ohio State University, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.

Working in Columbus for one year, he then progressed to the city of Cleveland.

In 1989, Avery saw a job posting at Mill Creek Park and decided to apply. “It appealed to me to work in a park district,” he said.

The advancement, as he called it, wasn’t just a planning position, but also a challenge.

“They knew they wanted an on-staff landscape architect to direct. They picked me. Next thing you know, 31 years went by,” Avery said.

Avery grew up in Hinckley Township in Medina County. Growing up, he said his family rented a house in the park district there, so the idea to work in a park was attractive.

There are several milestone projects sprinkled throughout Avery’s career.

“Every achievement is so unique. We’ve had some really awesome projects,” he said, adding that while the projects weren’t necessarily costly, they were one-of-a-kind, which “really made them special.”

The bikeway spanning across Mahoning County is one memory Avery looks back on fondly.

“It was an old abandoned rail line that ran across the county,” he said. Although the trail isn’t exactly inside Mill Creek Park, it still gives people a reason to visit the area.

The Kirk Road Trailhead project was another highlight Avery mentioned, noting the abandonded county engineer outpost facility was redeveloped when it was given to the MetroParks.

“Mahoning Avenue is five lanes of traffic there, so (bicyclists) had to cross five lanes which was difficult depending on the time of day,” he recalled. Through federal funding, an overpass was built, allowing people on bikes or runners/walkers to contine on their way without the worry of rush hour traffic.

“Major rehabilitation” on the silver suspension bridge, more commonly known as “The Cinderella Bridge” is another milestone of which Avery is proud.

“When you’re working on an 1890s structure, there’s lots of care that goes to it, keeping it looking as good but also improving it,” he said.

Another “really satisfying and exciting project” was adding a floating boardwalk to the back portion of the Lily Pond.

In his new role as retiree, Avery said he “plans on doing a number of things,” such as devoting a little more time to nonprofits he’s involved with, as well as preparing for his fifth grandchild.

He is also looking forward to helping his son, a pastor of a small church. “I’ll be able to devote more time to taking care of the grounds,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t want to jump right into work after retirement. Avery hopes to rest a little, saying he knows he has some items to cross off the “honey-do” list.

Laughing, he said he has “1,001 projects at home.”

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Mill Creek MetroParks presents Jewels of Winter orchid exhibit

Mill Creek MetroParks will host Jewels of Winter, a celebration and display of orchids, at Fellows Riverside Gardens during normal hours of operation from Tuesday (Jan. 28) through March 1.

Fellows Riverside Gardens is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

This year’s theme will showcase orchids as highly sought-after, Victorian-era jewels. Hundreds of orchids will be on display throughout the D.D. and Velma Davis Center.

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