Mill Creek Park naturalist Ray Novotny stands next to Council Rock in Lincoln Park on Youngstown’s East Side. Novotny will lead a hike Sunday in the Dry Run creek gorge from the park to the Lake McKelvey dam and back. Legend has it that hundreds of Native Americans who had gathered for a conference at the rock in 1755 were killed by a lightning strike that split the granite rock.
By Peter H. Milliken
The history and natural beauty of Lincoln Park and “Youngstown’s Wilderness” will be featured on a naturalist-escorted hike at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Ray Novotny, naturalist with Mill Creek MetroParks, will lead and narrate this four- to five-mile hike for the first time in three years.
Novotny, whose official title is MetroParks outdoor education manager, has led hikes in Lincoln Park, which features the 70-foot-deep Dry Run creek gorge, several times since the year 2000.
“Lincoln Park is a beautiful piece of property that’s almost forgotten,” Novotny said, adding that hikers have seen woodpeckers and wild turkeys on previous hikes.
This month’s hike, which Novotny describes as “very difficult” and likely to take at least two hours, will begin at the Lincoln Park pavilion on the city’s East Side and proceed up Dry Run to the McKelvey Lake dam and return.
“The creek bed is going to be our trail,” Novotny said, explaining that participants will walk along the rocky creek bottom and can expect to maneuver over and under trees and branches. “There’s no adjacent trail along the creek” for most of the distance, Novotny explained, promising that participants will get “extreme exercise.”
Although the hike will begin in the 59-acre, city-owned Lincoln Park, it will proceed toward the dam within the 200 adjacent acres, which Novotny calls “Youngstown’s Wilderness.”
The city purchased those 200 undeveloped wooded acres between the park and the lake several years ago using a $265,000 state- sponsored Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant.
“It’s quite scenic and beautiful when you’re hiking up though there,” said Ian Beniston, deputy director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., who wrote the grant application as a Youngstown City Hall intern in 2005.
If a heavy rain occurs before the hike, Novotny said he’ll confine the excursion to the park.
“It was the most memorable hike I’ve done in years,” Rick Shale of Boardman said of his participation in the 2010 Lincoln Park hike, during which about 20 hikers visited the landmark Council Rock and saw the park swimming pool, which no longer operates.
On park-sponsored hikes, “We often will cross a creek or walk next to a creek, but, this time, we walked in the creek for much of the hike,” Shale observed. The creek sometimes narrows in width to a mere 3 feet, Shale said.
“You can’t walk as fast in the water as you can on a hiking trail,” Shale said, adding that the creek water depth ranged from ankle-high to knee-high.
“It was strenuous because of the uneven footing and the climb up to view the dam and the lake,” Shale recalled. “We had to scramble up it, sometimes on all fours,” Shale said of the hill at the dam.
Shale said he hopes to repeat the hike this year. He is a former Mill Creek MetroParks commissioner, a retired Youngstown State University English professor and author of “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer.”
The most notable landmark at Lincoln Park is Council Rock, a granite boulder, which was a frequent Native American gathering place.
About Sept. 20, 1755, some 3,500 Native Americans from six tribes gathered at the rock to celebrate a French and Indian military victory over the British near Pittsburgh, which the Native Americans thought would keep white settlers out of the Ohio Valley.
During that gathering, legend has it that lightning split the boulder and killed 300 Indians, according to Dr. John C. Melnick’s book, “The Green Cathedral — A History of Mill Creek Park.”
“Fearing that this was a sign of displeasure of the Great Spirit, the Indians buried their dead and hurriedly left the area,” Dr. Melnick wrote in his 1976 book.
The legend of Council Rock also is recounted in Volume 1 of Joseph G. Butler Jr.’s 1921 “History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio.”
Because of the need to walk in the creek bed, hikers are urged to wear old footwear, which participants can expect will become wet and muddy, Novotny said.
There is no charge for the hike, but participants are asked to call 330-740-7107 by Saturday for registration and directions.