YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was 10 years ago that officials with Mill Creek MetroParks first invited people to Ford Nature Center to talk about renovating the house that was built in 1913. Now, that renovation is almost complete.

The nature center shined bright in the late afternoon sun Thursday–the bushes that once blocked the front gate are gone. The old stone has been power washed, giving the stately mansion some serious curb appeal.

Operations Director Justin Rogers and Executive Director Aaron Young led our cameras on a tour of the $4 million renovation, starting with the view of the new backyard meadow of native wildflowers seen through the new glass wall of the exhibit room.

“That focus on all types of themes from the natural world to geology to different habitats, including wetlands, tree identification, certainly animals,” Rogers said.

When they were digging the exhibit room, they hit a sandstone boulder complete with petrified wood and fossils.  

“We made the decision to keep it in here, dress it up, and it’s really become our first exhibit,”

The boulder, in fact, is the only exhibit. The new ones, some high-tech and interactive, are still being built. When asked to venture on a date when the center might open, Rogers laughed and said, “I’d rather not,”

Young led us toward what was the home carriage house, which has been transformed into classrooms.

“A place where they can touch and feel and hear and smell and all things nature,” Young said.

There are also outdoor classrooms. One is made of stumps from felled Mill Creek trees. Another is from stone quarried from the park. There’s also a bird-watching room with houses and feeders right outside the windows.

“There’s a tip of the cap to the old, but we’re looking toward the future,” Young said.
Of the $4 million cost, $3 million came from private donations. Mill Creek MetroParks paid for the additional $1 million. First, they had to raise the money and then Covid hit, which resulted in construction delays. That’s why it’s taken so long.