mahoning and shenango valley parks

Explore Hidden Gems in 5 Parks

By Lauren Moliterno

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Park systems in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys offer much to explore – some places residents know well and others are less familiar. With the promise of warmer weather and more sunshine, five hidden gems await visitors.

The Hitchcock Woods Nature preserve is one of nine nature preserves throughout Mill Creek Metroparks. At 8264 Hitchcock Road in Boardman, the preserve runs the Mill Creek corridor south of Boardman-Canfield Road. Although not too far from residences – a parking lot separates the wooded preserve from Hitchcock Road and a line of houses – Hitchcock Woods is largely undeveloped. A 1.4-mile walking trail loops around the area.

The trail was added to make the land more accessible for hiking. Visitors can get close to nature and observe the wildlife there. Mill Creek’s nature preserves and wetland habitats attract many species of birds. More than 225 species have been spotted at the Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary at 2650 W. Calla Road in Canfield, says Aaron Young, executive director of the park. A platform there allows visitors to enjoy the land without disturbing the wildlife.

“Our goal is to have something for everyone at all times of the year,” Young says.

Nature preserves are not active parks in that they lack playgrounds or other activity centers, thus allowing wildlife to thrive.

The Beaver Township Nature Preserve, 2800 W. South Range Road in North Lima, has little more than benches, a footbridge and a hiking trail, says the township park administrator, Scott Conway. Cardinals and a wide variety of birds have been spotted at the preserve as have deer, foxes, opossums and the occasional owl.

The preserve offers a nature-focused experience and is “a neat place to go if you just want to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of everything,” Conway says. “If you’re a nature lover, that’s the place. We have something for everybody, if you look at all our parks.”

Residents interested in outdoor activities can enjoy weekly summer concerts at Woodworth Park, 225 Warren Ave., or take advantage of the indoor pavilion and outdoor space at Memorial Park, 11836 South Ave.

For those who want a more active outdoor experience, the Fitness Trail at Buhl Park in Hermitage, Pa., “makes for a good outdoor workout,” says its director of arts and communication, Julie Norris. The trail winds through the middle of the park, including a preserved wetland area, and features 18 stations that focus on stretching, muscle development and cardiovascular conditioning. The stations, all made primarily of wood that match the trees around them, include a nearby sign explaining how to properly use the equipment.

Other activities at Buhl Park, 715 Hazen Road, include paved trails for jogging and walking dogs, an outdoor pool, an off-leash dog park, disc golf, tennis courts, baseball fields and a free golf course.

Regional parks also offer opportunities for physical activity while visitors take in the natural surroundings. Naturally constructed by melting glaciers, McConnells State Park in Portersville, Pa., stretches across 2,546 acres and is a national natural landmark.

Hikers can walk on 11.2 miles of trails that range in difficulty and take them to different parts of the 930-acre Slippery Rock Gorge. Other features include picnic areas and a 19th century gristmill.

“The gorge is what draws people here as well as the mill and the natural features,” says assistant park manager Brian Flores. The park “emulates a glacial lake that was here millions of years ago. That’s pretty unique.”

Flores cautions visitors when they hike and explore the natural landscape, which includes steep hills, slippery rocks and bodies of water that can be dangerous depending on conditions.

For a paved hiking experience, the Western Reserve Greenway is a 16.7-mile bike path with three trailheads: the Lockwood trailhead off state Route 87 near state Route 45; the Oakfield trailhead at 1328 Hyde-Oakfield Road, North Bloomfield; and the Sunside trailhead at 547 Center Street East (state Route 305), Warren.

Western Reserve Greenway is part of the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway that connects Lake Erie to the Ohio River. More than half of the trail runs through nature areas and a nature preserve near the Lockwood trailhead. While the trail runs through a residential area and under a bypass, it remains nature-oriented, says Zachary Svette, operations director at Trumbull County Metroparks. Among the wildlife spotted in the area are deer, foxes, turkeys, oxen, beavers, swans and, he says, on an extremely rare occasion, a black bear.

“I saw a black bear once, but that was just once in nine years,” Svette says.

The trail features geocaching areas that range from easy to “very challenging,” according to the Trumbull County Metroparks website. Geocaching is a game that involves collecting objects people locate using GPS coordinates. There are many geocaching areas throughout this section of the greenway including 80 in Trumbull County, 160 in Ashtabula County, 50 in Mahoning County and 16 hidden throughout the North Road Metropark in Howland Township.

Pictured: The platform at the Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Canfield enables visitors to enjoy the environment without disturbing wildlife.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.