CALLING ALL PARK PHOTOGRAPHERS

Whoa, Nelly! Has it really been a year-and-a-half since I updated my Mill Creek Park blog? Well, yes – it seems the last time was when the Lily Pond reopened after renovations, including observation decks, were completed. What got in the way in between then and now I really can’t say – to be sure, we still visit some part of the park just about every week – so I’ll just chalk it up to laziness.

Chalk this update up to a new and potentially exciting wrinkle. Not long ago, Facebook friend and top-notch photographer Sue Hankey Ramdin let me know that formation of an informal group of photographers who love the park is in the works. Would we be interested in learning more? Well sure, I responded – and since then, a small group met to discuss ideas. Nothing is written in stone as yet, but it looks as if something will come together starting in October. Possibilities include giving group members special access to events and places when the general public isn’t there – that alone interests the two of us. Educational workshops with guest speakers and the opportunity to have our photographs professionally critiqued are among the other possibilities. If anyone is interested in joining us, please let me know and I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.

Meantime, the extreme heat seems to have let up for a few days (keep in mind that I start turning into a shrew any time the temperature inches much above 75 degrees), so we headed off to the park just for somewhere to go. We didn’t plan to stay long, and we hoped we’d get in and out without encountering one of the many weddings that take place this time of year in the beautiful Fellows Riverside Gardens. I’m happy to report we made it with time to spare; three were scheduled on this day, the first at 2 p.m.

As always this time of year, I wanted to check out the flowers in the gardens (especially to see how the roses are doing), and we always make a run through – usually stopping for a bit – the Lily Pond. When I started down the path leading to the rose garden, I stopped for a minute to take in the daisies, coneflowers and other colorful blooms. And what to my wandering eyes should appear but – hold the phone – a swallowtail butterfly! Now granted, one of its “tails” was missing, but I was excited nonetheless: This is the first good-sized butterfly I’ve seen this year. In my excitement, I almost ran smack dab into another photographer – and as we both chased the elusive critter, we lamented that neither of us had brought our macro lens. Well, mine’s in the car, but I’m just too lazy to run back and get it, I noted. On this one, he bested me: “Mine’s in Florida,” he chuckled.

Next I spotted some bright pink spots, which happily turned out to be hibiscus blooms (last time we were here, only a single flower was showing its face). I love these big, beautiful flowers, so of course I spent some time here as well and made a “bee”-line for one of the closed-up blooms (I think you’ll understand when you look closely at this photo.

Then it was on to the rose garden, where I concentrated on the macro shots I love to take. While I was there, I took a more expansive view of the pavilion, one of the two in which weddings are held. The brides walk down the flowery “aisle,” making for a beautiful occasion.

Generally, I meander over to the gazebo (on a path lined with colorful hydrangeas), also the site of weddings; right now, some roses and a few day lilies remain in bloom, but I’ve taken them so many times that I passed them by and got a shot through the gazebo itself for the blog. After that, I started back to pick up Jack, who was waiting patiently on a bench outside the visitor center. I tried to hustle a bit, but I just couldn’t resist stopping to get a shot of the fountain on the way.

In the end, we made a quick pitstop at the Lily Pond as usual, but we passed on going anywhere else simply because it was past our usual lunch time and we were hungry. Off we went to Davidson’s in Cornersburg, one of our favorite places to eat (I picked the half-and-half combo of a chicken salad sandwich and their wonderful wedding soup, while Jack got his usual Philly steak sandwich with fries). Then it was home again, home again, jiggedy jig to enjoy a relaxing rest-of-Saturday and a rousing hour of The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS.

We’ll be coming back to the park soon, no doubt, but meantime, if you get antsy, feel free to visit my Mill Creek Park and Mill Creek MetroParks Farm galleries at Zenfolio:

http://photosbymonnie.zenfolio.com/millcreekmetroparks

http://photosbymonnie.zenfolio.com/p799821592

ALL DECKED OUT

Much of the access to the Lily Pond at Mill Creek Park has been closed off for some time now while improvements were being made. The first phase of renovations is complete, and the pond opened to the public on Jan. 22, 2016. Needless to say, at the first sign of sunshine, we picked up our cameras and headed out.

And even in the relative gloom of winter, it’s impressive. There’s a new information kiosk, benches and a drinking fountain next to the parking lot, all of which are nice touches, but the decks are the main attraction. Just beyond the kiosk is a walkway to one deck, and two others have been placed at the other end (a hiking trail allows visitors to circumvent the entire pond). Given all the leftover snow and ice at our visit, we didn’t venture down the trail to see those decks up close and personal, but you can bet we’ll rectify that as soon as possible.

Also of note is another walkway and deck that overlooks the adjacent Frog Pond, where there’s always something interesting growing, floating or flying (well, except maybe in the coldest part of winter). As soon as we get a sunny day when the temperature is above freezing and the trail is clear, it’s a sure thing we’ll make the loop.

According to park officials, there’s more to come, including a floating boardwalk, spillway bridge and improvements to the trail. Our take? Bring ’em on!

DRESSED IN AUTUMN’S COLORS

Autumn weather is comfortably cool, and nobody does colors like Mother Nature. What better time, then, to visit this beautiful park?

I have to ‘fess up first, though, by saying we just didn’t make nearly as many trips here during the summer months as usual. To begin with, it rained something like 26 consecutive days in June. We did pop in maybe half a dozen times to check out the rose and dahlia gardens, but the bird population still hasn’t found the Lily Pond in any great numbers, and the rustic wood fence that took center stage in many of our photos has been removed, so this once-favorite stopping place has lost a lot of appeal. But this season is just too pleasant to miss – including the Lily Pond – and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.

So, just to catch the blog up a bit, here are some of my favorite photos taken in my favorite season at my favorite park.

First up is the Victorian Gazebo in Fellows Riverside Gardens, then a view of Lake Glacier from the gardens. The Lily Pond gave up some wonderful reflections, and Lake Newport and its wetlands are awash with brilliant color.

BlogGazeboView1BlogGlacierView1

BlogPondReflections1   BlogNewport6

BlogNewport5BlogNewport1

TULIP TIME IN THE PARK

Tulips in full bloom at the park is, in my eyes, a sign that spring is here to stay. This year, they’re spectacular – undamaged by the heavy winds and rain of early spring (the colors are gorgeous as well). Our most recent visit was on May 3, when I borrowed my husband Jack’s Canon Digital Rebel XSi (a newer model than my XTi) and attached my Canon EF100 f/2.8 macro lens.
They’ll be gone before you know it, though – so I wanted to show them off in my blog while they’re still at their peak. For the record, all these photos were taken in Fellows Riverside Gardens behind the Visitor Center. But rest assured, when the tulips are gone, they’ll be followed by irises, peonies, day lilies, roses and finally – my personal favorite – dahlias. Stay tuned – and meanwhile, enjoy!

GardenBench2Blog RedYellow1Blog TulipTrio2Blog PinkSpeckled1Blog RedEdges1Blog PurpleCenter1Blog

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS SCOUT THE PARK

On June 12-14, West Virginia friends Amanda Haddox and Ron Gaskins, operators of Mountaineer Photo Excursions, will be leading a photography workshop at Mill Creek MetroParks. Stops are expected to include the MetroPark Farm and the wetlands on Calla Road, but the primary focus will be on the park itself.

This past weFlagView4-11ekend, as is their custom in planning one of their workshops, Amanda and Ron visited the park to get the lay of the land (Amanda has been here before, but it’s all new to Ron). Of course, we tagged along, pointing out places that might be of interest to the workshop participants while they took notes (and lots of photos, as did we). We started at the Visitor Center and Fellows Riverside Gardens, paying particular attention to the very photogenic Victorian Gazebo, the rose garden (no roses yet, of course, but they should be in full glory at workshop time) and other scenic areas. The rows and rows of tulips weren’t showing their colors yet, but daffodils and pansies added a touch of color here and there. Amanda and Ron climbed the observation tower to get views of Lake Glacier and the grounds below and I was happy to see the water turned on at a couple of fountains – a sure sign tA-RDeck4-11hat spring finally is here to stay.

From there, we made quick stops at the Old Log Cabin and Lake Glacier waterfalls before heading on to the Parapet Bridge and the Lily Pond (we got out for a bit at the small waterfall near the Lily Pond, but since we didn’t see any signs of wildlife, we moved on for a quick look-see at Ford Nature Center (I love the old building) and the Axtmann Nature Trail for All People, which is barrier free. We decided to get in one more hot spot before lunch – historic Pioneer Pavilion and Mill Creek Furnace. The pavilion is one of the oldesPioneerFront4-11t structures in Youngstown, a sandstone building constructed in 1821 (it can be rented for group activities). Mill Creek Furnace, the remains of which are located behind the pavilion, was the first blast furnace in Youngstown.

Lunch was at Davidson’s in Cornersburg – a relatively short drive from the park. It’s on the suggested list for a lunch stop during the June workshop, too, so since we all were in need of a rest, it provided both delicious food and a test run. Finishing up, we got back in the cars (I rode in Ron’s and Amanda rode with Jack so there’d be no problem with getting lost) to hit the next attraction – the wetlands at NewNewport3-4-11port Lake, the largest of the three lakes in the park. We followed the walkway to the end of the observation platform. I was dismayed to see that most of the foliage surrounding the walkway has been beaten down – whether by nasty weather or human hands, I don’t know. I do know it sure changes the look of the place, and not necessarily for the better – those tall grasses and weeds really added character to the place, IMHO – but a gorgeous blue sky and big puffy clouds made for a worthwhile stop from a photography standpoint.

Our final stop was at the showpiece of the park – Lanterman’s Mill. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time here capturing the historic building from just about every angle. The mill was open, but we didn’t take the time to go inside (summer hours begin May 1). For the record, the mill was built in 1845MillBridge1 4-11-46, and it continues to operate today. The stone-ground flours and meal can be purchased in the gift shop. An observation deck overlooks Lanterman’s Falls and extends out over the river a bit.

I love the mill, but I love the covered bridge behind it even more. It’s relatively new – completed in 1989 – and designed to resemble a bridge that was used by farmers who brought their grain to the mill back in the 1800s. The weathered wood is beautiful, and walkways allow visitors to watch the river course its way under the bridge toward the mill. Visiting later in the day this time out was a first for us (virtually all of our photo outings begin in mid-morning), and we were delighted to get some photos with late-afternoon lighting.

Since a little bird told us Ron loves Italian food, we’d made reservations at one of the area’s best – Salvatore’s Italian Grill in Austintown – for dinner. Our friends from Niles, Jerry and Barb, joined us there, and we all had a great time before finally calling it a night. I love eating there, BTW, and I highly recommend the Linguini Fra Diablo – crabmeat and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served over linguini. It’s hot enough for most folks on its own, but I (of the cast-iron stomach) always ask for it extra-hot. Delicious warm rolls and squares of fresh-baked pizza are complementary pre-meal temptations.

On Sunday MCPFarmView4-13morning, Amanda and Ron made the trip to Calla Road to check out the wetlands and relatively new observation deck as well as the MetroParks Farm near Canfield. As luck would have it, this was the Sunday the park celebrates the annual Baby Animal Shower, so they were able to get photos of some newborn pigs, calves, bunnies and such (and, until we thought about how many munchkins would be there, made us jealous that we declined to go). Since both the Calla Road wetlands and farm are on the workshop itinerary, though, so a stop here was important in getting a better idea of how and when those places will fit into the schedule.

Needless to say, we’ll be tagging along at least for part of the June workshop, and if you’d like to photograph some beautiful scenes and get instruction from the experts, we encourage you to sign up. Trying to list all their accomplishments of Amanda and Ron, both of whom have won awards for their photos dozens of times over, would be impossible. I will note, though, that Amanda is president of the Charleston Camera Club and Ron recently served as artist-in-residence at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. If you’d like more information on the workshop at Mill Creek Park, here’s a link to the Facebook page with more information. This workshop is limited to 12 participants and they all tend to fill up fast, so if you’re interested, get your reservations in ASAP!

SIGNS OF SPRING ON (WHAT ELSE?) THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING

Mill Creek Park offers many things to see and do all seasons of the year, but when it comes to photography opportunities, winter is my least favorite. That said, winter always brings a beauty all its own, and of course, my husband Jack and I have made several trips (albeit short ones) through various parts of the park since the weather started to turn nasty a couple of months ago. But today is the first official day of spring, and even though it started off gloomy, there’s a promise of sunshine at some point. I’m so delighted that Daylight Savings Time has returned – and my birthday is tomorrow (well, I’m not so delighted over that event except that I’m still alive and able to kick) – that we just couldn’t pass up a trip to the park today. I’d heard there are a few crocuses in bloom, and we wanted to take a peek at the revamped Garden Cafe that’s now operated by Friends Specialty.

In fact, I considered venturing down for the grand opening, but it was on St. Patrick’s Day – my favorite “holiday” of the year – and I wasn’t willing to give up our celebratory eating and drinking in our customary fashion. For the record, that included Up A Creek Tavern in Howland Township (for delicious Reuben sandwiches at lunchtime), StoneYard Grill & Tavern in Niles, Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown and, laterMCPWalkers3-16Blog in the day, Gasoline Alley in Niles for garlic wings and potato skins accompanied by our friends Jerry and Barb from Niles.

Just a few days earlier we’d made our most recent trip through the park, when the temperature was MCPPierReflections3-16Blogpushing 60 degrees and the sun was shining. Walkers, joggers and bikers were out in force and most of the snow and ice was melted. Still, we found vestiges of it everywhere, including mostly frozen lakes. No such luck today, though – no sun, and while it wasn’t so cold that I was forced to put on socks, I did have to give in and add a lightweightBettyMagnolia3-20Blog jacket. As was our plan, we pulled into the visitor center parking lot; and what to my wandering eyes did appear but buds – on the “Betty” magnolia tree near the front entrance. Hooray, I almost shouted – maybe spring really is getting serious about making a comeback!

Other places were just as promising; I didn’t see any crocuses yet, but bright green shoots poked their heads through the dirt in several of the flower beds. Better still was another sign of spring – this one literal: Tulips have been planted. I still remember the visual impact of the all-gold and white tulip display on the 50th anniversary of Fellows Riverside Gardens in 2008, if I recall correctly. What an awesome sight! Now I’m eTulipSign3-20Blogagerly awaiting this year’s display.

Inside the center, we checked out the Garden Cafe as planned, noting some interesting offerings like roasted root veggies over risotto and a panini with Prosciutto, goat cheese, fig jam and caramelized onions. One of these days we’ll stop in early enough sCafeFurniture3-20Blogo I can try one of the coffee varieties. They all sound good and I’m a coffee freak, but only first thing in the morning when it’s usually three cups; never, ever do I drink it with food. The new furniture is lovely, and while it’s not quite as “outdoorsy” as the steel gray metal ice cream-style tables and chairs of old, it looks both inviting and comfortable. A couple of tables are placed in the lobby just outside the dining area as well.

Still another plus: I didn’t notice a single misspelled word on the menu. That’s probably not very important to other folks, but I, a professional editor, continue to be amazed at the errors on the menus even at national chain restaurants. I’ve always thought I could clean up financially if anybody would be willing to pay me to look over their menus before sending them to print. That won’t be a happenin’ thing anytime soon, I’m afraid – certainly not amid the pencil point-thin profit margins in the restaurant industry – but I keep my fingeArrangement3-20Blogrs crossed anyway.

As for flowers, the orchids are still there and for the most part in good shape, and the amaryllis that were in the bud stage last time we were in the Library are blooming like crazy now. In the various nooks on the walls, new and artful arrangements really catch the eye. I don’t know who does them, but whoever it is has some serious flower-arranging talent.

As usual, we stopped in the gift shop, and also as usual, I lamented the change to more garden-oriented items that excludes the unique jewelry, purses and scarves. Now it’s sort of a blend of Crate and Barrel and Pier One with a touch of Hobby Lobby. Don’t get me wrong – there’s an almost endless display of really neat decorative and functional items here at rRobinEggs3-20Blogeasonable prices, such as Sora pods for just $3 each and some burlap napkins set off by tiny baskets of blue robin’s eggs. It’s just that 1) I don’t have a garden (and even if I did I’d forget to take care of it) and 2) our house and patio decor just aren’t the right “fit” for these kinds of things. I think they’re beautiful, but they’d look a whole lot better in somebody else’s home.

Outside the shop, though, I found a sale of wine-related goodies at 50% off – getting rid of the non-garden-related items, I suppose – and two things stopped me dead in my tracks: A beautiful black decanter and a nifty cheese board in the shape of a wine bottle with a cutting knife. Now here’s the really good part; when I showed them to Jack, I left him to go look at the orchids once again. Next thing I knew, he’s walking out of the gift shop with a big package in his hands. Knowing I loved them, he bought both for my birthday tomorrow. Have I mentioned that he’s a sweetie? Just one reason I’ve decided to pick up the option for another year on Aug. 18, when we celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.