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.

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BOOK SALE IN PROGRESS

This day started off gloomy with the promise of more new snow, so my husband Jack and I weren’t planning to venture away from home except – maybe – half a mile up the road to fetch a half-gallon of milk. But then, I saw a Facebook posting, apparently from the “Garden Cafe in Mill Creek MetroPark,” announcing today’s “Grab & Go Specials” by The Georgetown. I’d seen similar postings on Monday and Tuesday but shrugged them off – our information was that The Georgetown’s vendor contract at the park’s cafe ended Jan. 1.

We also knew the cafe has been closed for renovations  longer than originally planned, so after seeing the multiple announcements by The Georgetown on Facebook and wondering if something’s afoot (and in the interests of satisfying our need to take photos), we grabbed our cameras and said, “Let’s go.” Truth is, it doesn’t matter much to me who’s taking over, but when I see advertising that doesn’t quite add up, my journalistic nose starts twitching. Besides that, I wanted to check out the used book sale that’s a happening thing in the Antonucci Horticulture Library in the visitor center. Admittedly, I haven’t read a “real” book in probably five years – both of us are diehard Kindle users – but hey, a bargain is a bargain.

As for the cafe, sorry to say we didn’t learn much except that the signs announcing the early February reBookSaleBlogopening have been replaced by “opening soon,” so guess we’ll just have to wait to see who’s going to be running the show. On the plus side, though, there are still plenty of great books for sale – on topics like gardening, entertaining and cooking – at bargain-basement prices (including several on Christmas crafts and from lifestyle guru Martha Stewart that are almost coffee-table worthy).

Beautiful orchids of all colors and types continue to take center stage in the main area of the visitor center, and there are some really cool things for sale in the newly redone gift shop (Jack snagged a couple of decorative items he’d seen on our last visit and kicked himself ever since for not buying). Always on the lookout for textures that I can ShopPots2-26Blogturn into abstract designs, I poked around and found a few possibilities as well as some really neat pots for planting. While I still miss that gorgeous jewelry, everything in the gift shop is artfully arranged and very appealing to the eye – definitely worth a look if you haven’t been here sLilyPond2-26Blogince the remodeling.

From there, we made the obligatory stop at the Lily Pond – it looks frozen, but skating is prohibited so chances are looks are deceiving. As always, it’s beautiful in the snow. From there, we left the park to grab a bite at the Coney Island Hot Dogs Bar & Grill in Austintown (the butter garlic wings are to die for, BTW). We made it back home just as more snow started to fall, and since the temperature is supposed to drop below zero again tonight, I’m guessing we’ll stay in our snug house for another day or two. At least I’m happy with my park photos from this morning!

Feeling the Chill

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get outta Dodge. Today, after several nights of sub-zero temperatures that didn’t improve much in daylight hours, my husband Jack and I said “hold enough” and broke the car out of its relatively warm spot in the garage to head for Mill Creek Park. No, we had no intention of spending much time there – certainly not in the great outdoors – but we knew the remodeled gift shop in the visitor center has reopened and the orchids are still on display, and that was enough of an incentive for us to brave the cold.

Had the sun been shining, we’d have ventured far enough to see the frozen waterfall at Lanterman’s Mill, but the mere thought of walking down an icy hiking path (albeit a short one) just to get a gloomy shot had no appeal whatsoever. No, we said, we’ll stick with the visitor center and maybe the Lily Pond (and anything in between) and then go find a cozy place for lunch.

And so it was. The orchids got most of our attention in the visitor center, but the Antonucci Horticulture Library Amaryllis2 2-19was open as well, so I ventured in. The view from the sunny windows always catches my eye – as it did today – and it was nice to see the children’s section set up once again (just love the alphabet rug). I also got a few shots of the pretty amaryllis blooms placed here and there (one of my favorite flowers to photograph, BTW, although I prefer the bright red ones).

After that, I wandered through the gift shop. Although there’s plenty of really neat merchandise here now, the new focus, according to the pLibrary2-19ark powers that be, is on providing more garden-related items such as live plants, fairy gardens and ikebana vessels. I get the concept, but I really, really miss all the gorgeous jewelry I always stopped in to see (and buy, when I wanted a unique gift). Oh well, as they say, all good things must end (sigh!) – and hey, that gorgeous skylight still takes center stage in the ceiling even though the glass part has been covered. As for the merchandise, it’s still lovely – the shop sort of reminds me of a Crate and Barrel store.CenterSkylight2-19

The Garden Cafe still isn’t open, and we got no word on when that might happen; the sign still says it will happen in early February, but methinks we’re a bit past that point by now. So on that front, stay tuned – we’ll keep an eye out and, once it opens, post an update after we’ve given it a try.

As I reluctantly left the visitor center dreading the cold, I walked past the beautiful flower fountain just inside theVisitorFountains2-19 front entrance and stopped to get a few photos. Back in the car, Jack pointed its nose down the road past Lake Glacier, stopping next to the near-frozen waterfall. Despite the lack of sunshine, it was just beautiful. We drove on up to the Lily Pond, but by that timeGlacierFalls2-19 the sky had turned even grayer (if that’s possible) and like the waterfall, our photographic juices simply stopped flowing. Besides that, our stomachs were growling (even after 53 years of marriage, I’m here to tell you it’s not necessarily in unison). Remembering the weekday $5 lunches at Barry Dyngles, we left the park and headed toward Raccoon Road in Austintown. A couple of Happy Hour brewskies (for the one of us riding shotgun), one brisket and one barbecue chicken sandwich later, and it was home again, home again, jiggedy jig!

Now, as I reflect on our travels, I’m doubly glad we made the effort to get out. The weather gurus are saying it will drop to -14 degrees F. tonight (that’s the “real” temperature, folks, not with the wind chill factored in). And as I write this, a thankfully short-lived white-out of snow just stopped. Ah, the joys of winter in northeastern Ohio!

Wintering in the Park

Much as I love cold weather, winter isn’t the best time to get colorful photos outdoors in Ohio (somehow, yellow and soot-covered snow isn’t terribly photogenic). Still, my husband Jack and I get out every chance we get, and at least a couple of times each week it’s back to Mill Creek Park. If it’s a quick trip, it’s usually to see what’s new in the visitor center, with other stops at the edges of Lake Glacier and the Lily Pond.

The visitor center is undergoing some renovations right now, including a change of caterers for the Garden Cafe (soon it will be in the hands of Friends Roastery of Salem and Youngstown) and a bit of remodeling in the gift shop. At one of our most recent viGardenCafe2-7blogsits, I took the opportunity to get a somewhat different perspective on the now-empty cafe (the outdoor terrace and observation deck in the background are closed for the winter). The gift shop, we’re told, no longer will include the beautiful jewelry, scarves, purses and such that I’ve loved to tell folks about – nowhere have I seen such a wonderful and relatively inexpensive collection of these items, and I’m sorry to hear they’ll be here no more even though I’m sure there will beMCPPods2-7KaleidBlog plenty of other colorful and unusual items to peruse. And as always, it’s fun looking for unusual textures and backgrounds that I can capture and turn into creative designs in part for my “Photo Art” gallery at Zenfolio. This one, for instance, started as some kind of pod-like plant).

Orchids were showcased at our last visit, with sprays of all colors, types and sizes blooming throughout the interior. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the flowers, but I certainly appreciate their beauty and even managed to get a few halfway decent photos this time out. There’s also a beautiful “flower” fountain sprouting near the front entrance that’s worth a look.

Winter Waterfall

The weather has been so cold that ice skating has been permitted now and then at the Lily Pond, and on the trek there one day Jack stopped the car long enough for me to get a photo of the small frozen waterfall just before the turn-off to the pond. When there’s no snow and ice, this is a great place for a relaxing picnic amid the pretty scenery. Although I do miss the rustic rail fence that surrounded one side of the pond and seeing all those now-gone geese (their voluminous droppings, not so much), it’s still a beautiful place all seasons of the year.

Next up? Winter will be with us for a while longer, but I’m allowing myself to dream about the first sightings of magnolia blooms in Fellows Riverside Gardens and next to the paddle boat rental house. When they MCPPavilion1Blogappear, it means spring is right around the corner, making the entire park come alive with color. After that come the tulips (I still remember the park’s 50th anniversary year, when all the tulips were white and gold – what a sight that was) and the heady scent of hyacinths. Roses follow in copious amounts and in colors only Mother Nature (and maybe a little hybridization) can produce. Be still my heart!

Welcome to Mill Creek MetroParks!

Welcome to my blog about the expansive Mill Creek MetroParks, one of the largest municipally owned parks in the country located near Youngstown in northeastern Ohio. My husband Jack and I are fortunate to live about a 20-minute drive away from the system’s primary property, Mill Creek Park, and we’re frequent visitors — it’s one of our favorite parks in the country. For those who don’t know me, I’m a mostly retired journalist/editor/writer living in Mineral Ridge, Ohio (Trumbull County).

I’ll start by telling you a bit about the park’s background and what you’ll find here; as we make other forays, I’ll report on our experiences and show you more of the sights. I promise there will be plenty of forays; Mill Creek Park is a park for all seasons, and variety is the spice of life. In the spring, wildflowers are plentiful and planted gardens are filled with early blooms like tulips and crocuses. In summer, trees shade the trails and bright green moss covers the rocks and gorges. In winter, you’re likely to find a blanket of pristine white snow covering the lakes and sprinkled in between trees and bushes. And in the fall, though, who can resist the brilliant reds, golds and oranges of the changing foliage that signals the coming of winter in the Buckeye State?

Mill Creek Park is one of the largest municipally owned parks in the country) and includes 15 miles hiking trails, of beautifully landscaped gardens, historic buildings, wetlands, lakes and recreation areas. Established in 1891, the park itself encompasses about 2,600 acres; a 402-acre working farm, is located nearby, as is Yellow Creek Park, a 76-acre gorge area acquired by Mill Creek Metroparks in 1991.

One of the don’t-miss attractions is the restored Lanterman’s Mill, which operates today much as it did in the 1800s, grinding corn, wheat, buckwheat and oats that are sold in a small gift shop. The mill and adjacent covered bridge, situated in a scenic gorge, are perhaps the most photographed structures in the park. Other popular photo subjects are the historic Pioneer Pavilion and Log Cabin, the Newport Lake Wetlands (you can get great photos from just about anywhere along the wooden path that ends in an observation deck) and a couple of small waterfalls. At the Lily Pond, photographers can capture stacks of young turtles sunning themselves on logs in the water as well as colorful Mallard ducks and a few other wild critters. When and if the pond freezes, ice skating is permitted.

One of the most unique structures, though, is a bridge that spans Mill Creek and is often called the “Cinderella Bridge” because of its ornate ironwork. While it is just one of several bridges located throughout the park, it’s certainly the most photogenic.

Much of our time is spent at the D.D. and Velma Davis Education & Visitor Center in Fellows Riverside Gardens. The beautiful building houses an auditorium, banquet hall, gift shop, cafe, library and exhibit space that often showcases works of art and photography by local artists, both amateur and professional. Even in winter, we stop in just to take in the wonderful view of Glacier Lake from the floor-to-ceiling library windows and maybe have lunch in the Garden Cafe.

Fellowship Riverside Gardens, an 11-acre living museum, filled with flowers and plants, decorative fountains and two pavilions (one overlooking the scenic Lake Glacier) that in good weather are popular spots for weddings. The annual rose collection brings thousands of visitors here — including me — but I’m also a big fan of the spring display of tulips, crocus and, over the summer, some of the largest and most beautiful dahlias I’ve ever seen.

Also a big attraction is the Ford Nature Education Center, located in an old stone building. It’s open year-round and features exhibits and nature hikes — in particular, on the one-mile “People’s Trail” next to the center that is handicapped accessible. And those who are so inclined can play a few rounds at one of two championship public golf courses designed by Donald Ross.

The park is a nature-lovers’ delight; it is part of four watersheds: Yankee Creek, Mill Creek, Yellow Creek and Meander. At the southern end of the park is the scenic Newport Wetlands, home to a variety of plants, birds and animals. A quarter-mile wood walkway ends at an observation deck that overlooks several deep water pools from nearby Lake Newport. And more recently, an observation deck was added on Calla Road in Canfield Township, offering expansive views of the surrounding wetlands.

Check back often — I’ll be writing about our experiences here and showing you some of the wonderful scenery. And if you’d like to see an ongoing collection of photos, visit my gallery at Zenfolio.