Our Towns

Rocky Ridge Group Taps Funds for Library Maple Grove

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of the Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association didn’t know how to make maple syrup when they started with their project five years ago. To get the knowledge they needed, they borrowed books from the former West Side branch of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County.

The organization gave back Friday, presenting a $2,500 donation to the library to establish a grove of sugar maple trees at the Michael Kusalaba Branch Library under construction at the site of the former West Side branch.

“The library has a special place in the neighborhood and in our hearts, because that’s where we go to learn, but that’s also where we look to grow,” said John Slanina, president of Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association.

Slanina and association members who prepared this year’s batch of maple syrup produced from sap harvested from the Mill Creek MetroParks’ grove were on hand Friday for the check presentation.

Ground was broken last fall on the Kusalaba branch, funded in part by $1.68 million from the Michael Kusalaba Fund administered by the Youngstown Foundation.

The check presentation coincided with the launch of the annual sale of the sap harvested from the grove and cooked by members of the neighborhood group. The 380 bottles produced this year are on sale in the gift shop at the park district’s Fellows Riverside Gardens.

Heidi Daniel, library executive director, emphasized how meaningful the donation is. The grove is going to be a “huge asset” to the library by providing great scenery and “an excellent opportunity” to do programming for children and adults, she said.

“The Rocky Ridge Neighbors have made this possible through a number of ways, from conversations they had with library administration to letting us attend their meetings and coming to the [West Side branch] farewell party. Every step along the way in this project, the Rocky Ridge Neighbors have supported us,” she said.

When the library branch trees are ready – likely each February – Rocky Ridge members will tap the trees using what’s called a spile and attach bags for people to use to collect the sap, take it home and make syrup in their kitchens or garages, Slanina said. Instructions will be available at the branch.

How soon those trees can be tapped will depend on their maturity. “Will we have something immediately by next spring? Perhaps not,” he said.

The association has realized about $20,000 in net profits from the syrup sale since its first year, with half going to the park district under its agreement to tap the trees. Of the remainder, which goes to various community organizations, $3,000 has supported the library’s annual summer reading program and the purchase of tablet computers and literacy software.

The association’s reason for donating to the library is twofold, Slanina said. Libraries are “amazing places that can anchor a neighborhood,” he began. And the “personal relationships” members have with individuals at the library including Daniel, library communications director Janet Loew and development director Deborah Liptak. “We want to support people who are wonderful in this community,” he said.

Construction of the branch is moving along for a planned completion later this year, Daniel said.

Architect Ronald Faniro said the building is about 50% complete.

Technical research is underway on habitat issues related to the sugar maple trees so he could not say how many would be planted.

Pictured: Mark Dolak, Heidi Daniel and John Slanina.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.