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Longtime park director retires

YOUNGSTOWN — Today marks the end of an era for Mill Creek MetroParks and its planning and operations director Steve Avery.

After 31 years with the park, Avery is retiring.

“I’m blessed I could be at one place for that long for one career,” Avery said.

His story began more than 35 years ago, when he attended The Ohio State University, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.

Working in Columbus for one year, he then progressed to the city of Cleveland.

In 1989, Avery saw a job posting at Mill Creek Park and decided to apply. “It appealed to me to work in a park district,” he said.

The advancement, as he called it, wasn’t just a planning position, but also a challenge.

“They knew they wanted an on-staff landscape architect to direct. They picked me. Next thing you know, 31 years went by,” Avery said.

Avery grew up in Hinckley Township in Medina County. Growing up, he said his family rented a house in the park district there, so the idea to work in a park was attractive.

There are several milestone projects sprinkled throughout Avery’s career.

“Every achievement is so unique. We’ve had some really awesome projects,” he said, adding that while the projects weren’t necessarily costly, they were one-of-a-kind, which “really made them special.”

The bikeway spanning across Mahoning County is one memory Avery looks back on fondly.

“It was an old abandoned rail line that ran across the county,” he said. Although the trail isn’t exactly inside Mill Creek Park, it still gives people a reason to visit the area.

The Kirk Road Trailhead project was another highlight Avery mentioned, noting the abandonded county engineer outpost facility was redeveloped when it was given to the MetroParks.

“Mahoning Avenue is five lanes of traffic there, so (bicyclists) had to cross five lanes which was difficult depending on the time of day,” he recalled. Through federal funding, an overpass was built, allowing people on bikes or runners/walkers to contine on their way without the worry of rush hour traffic.

“Major rehabilitation” on the silver suspension bridge, more commonly known as “The Cinderella Bridge” is another milestone of which Avery is proud.

“When you’re working on an 1890s structure, there’s lots of care that goes to it, keeping it looking as good but also improving it,” he said.

Another “really satisfying and exciting project” was adding a floating boardwalk to the back portion of the Lily Pond.

In his new role as retiree, Avery said he “plans on doing a number of things,” such as devoting a little more time to nonprofits he’s involved with, as well as preparing for his fifth grandchild.

He is also looking forward to helping his son, a pastor of a small church. “I’ll be able to devote more time to taking care of the grounds,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t want to jump right into work after retirement. Avery hopes to rest a little, saying he knows he has some items to cross off the “honey-do” list.

Laughing, he said he has “1,001 projects at home.”