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Prime attraction worth walk in park

Robert Stanger

Youngstown’s celebrated Mill Creek Park covers some 2,600 acres as it winds its serpentine course along its namesake creek for about 10 miles from the creek’s mouth at the Mahoning River through Youngstown and into Boardman Township as far as Western Reserve Road.

This park, which is certainly one of the area’s stellar attributes, is unique as an urban park for a number of reasons. One might mention its many miles of hiking trails, its three lakes — kayaking is enjoyed on two, a 36-hole golf course and a road system popular with bicyclists which makes all sections of the park readily accessible to the public.

But to me, one of the park’s most notable qualities is its rampant use of stone in the construction of some of its most outstanding features.

The northern section of the park, where I often take walks as a less-than-athletic retiree, is home to a good number of these structures.

Perhaps the most outstanding of these is what is called the Parapet Bridge, which spans a ravine on East Glacier Drive above Lake Glacier.

The Mill Creek Bridge in Youngstown is pictured.

This bridge, with its rows of teeth-like rocks along its top railings above its arched body of yellow stone is often photographed from points across from it on the lake’s west side. In the fall, is surrounded by the surrounding changing foliage, and in the spring it is flanked by several flowering dogwood trees.

In his 430-page book about the park, “The Green Cathedral” Dr. John C. Melnick writes that Bruce Rogers, the brother of the park’s founder, Volney Rogers, had the bridge built as a replica of one he had admired in Italy.

“It is considered by bridge authorities to be one of the best of its type in America,” writes Melnick.

Across from the Parapet Bridge on the west side of two of the park’s lakes, Glacier and Cohasset, there are no fewer than five arched stone bridges of various dimensions built over small streams that feed the two lakes. The bridges span the main park road or are close to it on intersecting roads.

All have railings made of heavy stone. (An accident with fatalities occurred some years ago when a speeding car carrying students from a local Catholic high school hit an abutment to one of these bridges.)

It must have taken a great deal of skill and hard labor to construct these bridges which appear unique to Mill Creek Park, as I have seen nothing like them elsewhere.

Perhaps they were constructed by immigrants with stone working skills who came to the Mahoning River Valley from Eastern Europe and Italy to labor in the Valley’s steel mills.

Melnick credits a “master stone cutter” named Joseph Bojo for having cut much of the stone used for the Parapet Bridge.

Lakes Cohasset and Glacier date to 1897 and 1906 respectively, or not long after the park was founded in 1891 through state legislation sponsored by Volney Rogers, who is called “The Father of Mill Creek Park.” (A statue of Rogers stands at the main entrance to the park off Glenwood Avenue.)

Another stone feature which is one of the prime attractions of the north end of the park is the Rock Garden which rises above the road that runs along the portion of the creek that connects lakes Glacier and Cohasset.

The rocks, reportedly quarried from within the park itself, form a terraced sloping wall over 300 feet long and more than 50 feet high. Niches among the rocks support plants that cover the wall with yellow blossoms in the late spring.

Along the park road that runs along the east side of the creek in the north end south of Lake Glacier is the Slippery Rock Pavilion, which, like the park’s similar picnic pavilions, has a tiled roof and an open picnic area supported by stone pillars.

The Slippery Rock Pavilion’s pillars, on which rest heavy wooden beams that support the roof, are composed of thick slabs of yellow rock, and raising them to the height that the pillars attain must have been no easy task. There are five of these stout pillars on each side of the pavilion.

In addition to the structures mentioned above, there are impressive retaining walls made of quarried stone that run along trails that border the creek in the lower section of the park

A short section of trail known as the Artist’s Trail has a stone retaining wall above it and is kept from being eroded into the steam below by another retaining wall on its other side.

A retaining wall 15 feet or more high composed of massive blocks of stone runs for hundreds of feet along a trail above the southern end of Lake Cohasset.

Placing these huge blocks and securing them was obviously a feat of engineering, particularly given that the work was part of park projects carried out so many years ago. Some of the work in the park was reportedly done in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.

Park users today certainly benefit from the skilled efforts of workers who labored generations ago

But what is probably the park’s most renowned structure, the silver suspension bridge that crosses the creek between lakes Newport and Cohasset dates to the park’s earliest days, as it was constructed in 1895 by the American Bridge Co.

The picturesque bridge is the site of many post-wedding photography outings.

No mention of bridges in the park could be complete without citing the covered bridge which provides vehicle access to Lanterman’s Mill, a grist mill located off Canfield Road south of Lake Cohasset which played a prominent role in Youngstown’s past.

The mill is open seasonally today, and tours are offered.

Rock quarried in the park was also used on the construction of the dams which create the park’s three lakes. The southernmost lake, Newport, constructed in 1928, is the largest, covering some 100 acres, while Glacier and Cohasset cover about 43 and 28 acres respectively.

The quarried rock on the downstream faces of the dams form terraced slopes over which the creek’s waters flow. There are just modest trickles in dry weather, but impressive cascades after periods of heavy precipitation or when snow melts in the spring.

The levels of all three lakes can be controlled through valves operated from platforms that rise above the inshore edges of the dams.

The lakes can thus be lowered to remove accumulated silt if this is needed.

Mill Creek Park itself is the main component of the Mill Creek Metroparks District which is supported by a countywide Mahoning County tax and covers some 4,500 acres.

Also included in the Metroparks District are a bike path, Yellow Creek Park in Struthers, the park’s farm in Canfield, an equestrian facility and a couple of small preserves.

The park is controlled by a five-member Board of Commissioners. The park’s present superintendent is Aaron Young, who was hired in 2017 at a salary of $97,000.

The park employs some 260 persons at an average annual salary of about $14,500.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.

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