Last Updated on April 28, 2023

My heart skipped several beats as my wife and I neared our VRBO on a recent return trip to our hometown area of Youngstown, Ohio. Our rental, a 1934 Tudor home, was situated on the edge of one of my most favorite childhood haunts, the lush, lovely Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, OH.

I spent the next two days reliving my youth, re-exploring its many natural treasures, trails and structures that meant so much to me growing up.

This magnificent public park is one of the largest and considered among the most beautiful urban parks in the U.S. It covers over 2,600 acres. By comparison, New York’s Central Park is 843.

This homecoming produced lovely memories of babbling streams, rocky ledges, picturesque waterfalls and lakes, rock gardens and more.

Mill Creek MetroParks as it’s now called stretches from the west side of Youngstown to its southern borders and into neighboring Boardman township. Its lush, hilly grounds can be explored along 20-miles of drives and 45-miles of foot trails. In addition to its rich, natural beauty, the park offers visitors a wide range of recreational activities including hiking, fishing, boating, picnicking, golfing, and more.

The park’s popular hiking paths wind through forests, meadows, and along streams. Some popular trails include the Gorge Trail, offering stunning views of Mill Creek Gorge, and the East Cohasset Hike & Bike Trail, a paved trail perfect for walking or biking.

Mill Creek Park in Youngtown, Ohio also hosts several historic landmarks, gardens, visitors’ center and an impressive nature center. It has long been a focus of the park to support environmental education and conservation, offering a variety of educational programs and events throughout the year. Their efforts have led to increased participation in volunteer conservation efforts to preserve the area’s plant and wildlife and natural beauty.

History of Mill Creek Park

Mill Creek Park was founded in 1891 thanks to the tireless efforts of Volney Rogers, a Youngstown attorney. Rogers desired to secure a natural oasis in the midst of the rapidly growing city, known more for its iron and steel industry than lovely scenery.

Recognizing the impressive topography and natural beauty of the undeveloped land, he purchased large tracts from over 90 landowners and turned over all the land for park purposes after ensuring it was protected by public law. Rogers was able to have the land officially declared a park by the state legislature and Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio opened in 1893.

Rogers’ brother Bruce became the first park superintendent. He studied landscape architecture and enlisted the contributions of other well-known landscape architects to bring the park to life.

The financial panic of 1893 spurred park development as unemployed men found work here cutting trails, establishing drives, building a dam, and restoring old structures.

Mill Creek Park Lakes

Mill Creek winds and twists throughout the park from south to north in a meandering fashion. I recalled fondly how my wise mother always packed extra dry clothes for her six intrepid boys who would splash playfully in the creek, catching crayfish, frogs, salamanders while acting out fantasies of Robin Hood, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

I revisited its three main lakes: Glacier, Cohasset, and Newport. Each deliver a relaxing ambience with stunning views. Adjacent hiking trails and picnic areas help provide for enjoyable relaxing days in the park.

Lake Glacier

Lake Glacier Overlook at Fellows Riverside Gardens.
Lake Glacier Overlook at Fellows Riverside Gardens. Photo by Michael Kompanik

The northern-most, Lake Glacier was created in 1898 with the damming of Mill Creek to supply water for Youngstown’s growing population. Covering 44 acres, the lake is a popular spot for boating and fishing. At its boathouse, visitors can rent rowboats, kayaks, and paddleboats for a scenic outing on its tranquil waters.

Lake Cohasset

Lake Cohasset, the middle and oldest of Mill Creek Park’s lakes, built in 1897, covers 28 acres.  This small lake is known for its stately hemlocks. Boating is not permitted on the lake and its seclusion offers visitors a chance to enjoy native wildlife in a safe, secure natural habitat while hiking along the West and East Cohasset Trails.

Lake Newport

Lake Newport was once the largest of the three lakes, with 60 acres of open water and 40 acres of wetlands. Created in 1933 by the Works Progress Administration, Lake Newport is stocked with local fish, making it ideal for both fishing and boating. The Lake Newport Boathouse likewise has paddleboats and rowboats for rent.

Mill Creek once meandered through this shallow valley and a dam built in 1928 helped create the man-made lake and its adjacent wetlands.  The gradually expanding Newport Wetlands, along the lake’s southern edge, provides visitors an opportunity to experience a true marsh environment filled with native flora and fauna.

The Albert E. Davies Wetland Trail is a boardwalk through the wetlands with interpretive signs along the way highlighting a variety of local plants and animals. Kayakers can explore the wetland habitat along water trails and hikers can enjoy views along the West, East Channel and Islands Trails, and West Newport Trail.

Lily Pond

This is the scenic ‘Goldfish Pond’ of my youth, forever etched in my memory by my unplanned and accidental plunge into its waters. My widowed mother had her three boys on an outing with a date and I was exploring the high hills around the picturesque pond with my older brother. My mom called us and down we ran. The only problem is, I could not stop and went straight into the pond.

My muddy and stinky clothes were peeled off and I rode in the back seat of a stranger’s car in my underwear. This brave guy took it all in good-humored stride and went on to become my much-loved stepfather.

Since its creation in 1896, migrating waterfowl, turtles, sunfish, koi and a lovely walking path have made this 3.25-acre pond a popular site for families and lovers. The recent addition of a floating boardwalk and two water’s-edge observation decks have enhanced the pond’s atmosphere even further.

Measures taken to restore the pond’s health from years of neglect and over-usage include a bioswale, biofiltration area, and permeable pavers to prevent storm runoff and pollutants have been remarkably successful. Today, the Lily Pond is more beautiful than ever before. Educational interpretive signage showcasing the diverse pond wildlife and habitat add to the experience.

What to do at Mill Creek Park

Mill Creek Golf Course

Mill Creek’s links features two 18-hole, par-70 championship courses that opened to the public in 1928. We loved playing the North Course which is largely flat with tree-lined fairways and natural forest and streams along part of its course.

The South Course, located a bit further away, was recently rated by Golfweek as one of America’s 30 Best Municipal Courses and rightly so, as it provides challenging play and beautiful scenery coupled with natural hazards.

Lanterman’s Mill

Lanterman's Mill in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, OH.
Lanterman’s Mill in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, OH. Photo by Michael Kompanik

One of area’s most historic landmarks, Lanterman’s Mill, was built in 1845 by German Lanterman and Samuel Kimberly. A visit to this iconic mill along Mill Creek adjacent to the falls is truly a step into the past.

Restored in the early 1980s, the mill operates today as it did in the pioneer days of the 1800s, grinding corn, wheat, and buckwheat. Here you can experience the sweet aroma of freshly ground grains, as you feel the rumbling vibrations of the massive millstones grinding the grain.

A gift shop full of unique wares from local artisans along with the Mill’s stone-ground, preservation-free cornmeal, buckwheat, and whole wheat flour is on-site. A brochure for recipes using Lanterman’s Mill is available for download.

Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio geological history can be explored along the nearby East Gorge Walk and West Gorge Trail. This award-winning two-mile loop includes a boardwalk framed by the scenic creek and a towering sandstone wall.

Pioneer Pavilion

Mill Creek Park’s Pioneer Pavilion, constructed in 1821, is one of Youngstown’s oldest structures. The large two-story sandstone building served as a wool processing mill, and later a Mill Creek Furnace storeroom. Remodeled in 1893, the imposing structure was renamed the Pioneer Pavilion to honor its frontier history.

It is available for rent year-round and popularly used for family reunions, dances, parties and wedding receptions.

The Wall Garden

Another iconic structure of the park, the Wall Garden, was constructed in March 1922 as a retaining wall  along the park’s West Drive. Finished with stone blocks from the park’s Bears Den Quarry, the 552-foot wall was planted with a variety of rock garden plants adding a splash of other colors to the park’s lush verdant landscape.

The Old Log Cabin

The Old Log Cabin, built around 1814, is nestled in the hillside along the north shore of Lake Glacier. This small, but historic structure is one of the oldest buildings in Mahoning County and currently used as a rental facility.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge Mill Creek Park.
Suspension Bridge Mill Creek Park. Photo by Michael Kompanik.

Erected in 1895 and renovated in the 2010s to restore its structural integrity and beauty, the Suspension Bridge spans Mill Creek connecting the east and west sides of the park.

Known locally as the Cinderella Bridge, Silver Bridge, Castle Bridge, or the Walt Disney Bridge, it is the oldest bridge in the park measuring 86-feet long and 32-feet wide. With its romantic architectural beauty of tall pointed spires and sweeping arches, it has served as a magnet for artists and photographers for many years.

Parapet Bridge

Parapet Bridge, constructed in 1913, is located on the east side of Lake Glacier. Another architectural masterpiece, this overpass is constructed from massive upright boulders and features a graceful arch.

Locally known as the Dragon Bridge or the Prehistoric Bridge, it is the largest of Mill Creek Park’s stone arch structures. The bridge sports four viewing platforms and is the most photographed bridge in Mill Creek Park.

Fellows Riverside Gardens

A free, public garden located at the very northern end of Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio, Fellows Riverside Gardens’ twelve acres feature a varied landscape of diverse and colorful plant displays, a spectacular rose garden, seasonal displays of annuals, perennials and flowering bulbs, along with scenic vistas.

It was the site of my outdoor wedding 40-some years ago to the love of my life and is even more awe-inspiring today with its expanded facilities that include a spectacular visitor center, gazebo, paved trails, and more.

Now an all-season destination, Fellows Riverside Gardens draws over 400,000 visitors a year.

Ford Nature Center

Mill Creek Metroparks’s commitment to education is nowhere more evident than in its Ford Nature Center. Redeveloped in 2023 to improve, enhance, and expand its nature education mission, the center added new interactive exhibits, interchangeable displays, and interpretive signage complete with a Nature Exhibit Hall, History Room, Bird Observation Room, Rooftop Garden, Native Wildflower Meadow, Axtman Trail, Outdoor Classrooms, and an Education Building.

Other Notable Landmarks

Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio is also home to several furnace ruins dating back to the city’s earliest days in the iron and steel industries. The Hopewell Furnace, in the MetroParks’ nearbyYellow Creek Park, constructed in 1802, was the first blast furnace in Ohio and the first west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Mill Creek Furnace was the first blast furnace in Youngstown and operated until the early 1850s.

An eight-foot statue of founder Attorney Volney Rogers can also be found in the park. Dedicated in 1920, this bronze statue was created by nationally renowned sculptor Frederick C. Hibbard. It will forever serve as a reminder of just how much the people who visit this spectacular urban park owe this remarkable visionary for preserving this wondrous landscape.

It’s motto on the statue’s base fittingly reads, “This park was conceived in his heart and realized through his devotion.”

As I ended my trip back home, I was comforted by the realization that Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio is every bit as beautiful today as my fanciful memories of youth had painted it. No wonder it’s such an important part of the city, its residents, and a popular destination for all who visit.

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy Captain, a managing editor of Rovology Online Magazine and a freelance travel writer. He currently resides in San Diego California with his wife Noreen who is also a travel writer and editor. Together they have traveled to such far off places as Europe, Thailand, Central America, Africa and more. Michael’s wide-ranging interests include history, nature, travel, photography, and, of course, military matters.