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Mill Creek Park Nature Center gets ‘transformational gift’

Workers from RAM Construction Services of Cleveland work at Mill Creek MetroParks’ Ford Nature Center in Youngstown. The mansion-turned-educational building has been under extensive remodeling as part of a multi-million dollar project that now may be ahead of its financial schedule after an anonymous donor gifted the park, after reading a story about the effort in The Vindicator. The donor contributed $750,000 toward the project set for completion next year.

YOUNGSTOWN — Mill Creek MetroParks has received what’s being called a “transformational” gift.

An anonymous Mahoning Valley donor has gifted the park $750,000, said Chris Litton, development director.

“It is transformational from the standpoint of what it allows us to do in 2021,” Litton said.

What prompted the large gift was a Nov. 23, 2020, article in The Vindicator, explaining an endowment program set up at the MetroParks by Litton. “It’s a story the public needed to know. It’s their park,” he said.

The donor prefers to stay behind the scenes.

Across the board, everyone at the park system is thankful for the gift.

“We are truly grateful for the generous contributions of those who truly appreciate and support the mission of the MetroParks and its impact on Mahoning County,” said Executive Director Aaron Young.

The donor’s financial planner reached out to the park, stating the person wished to make a donation to the MetroParks Foundation.

The gift is unrestricted, which means it is given for any purpose, Litton said.

A portion of the funding will help complete the financing for the Ford Nature Center Redevelopment Project, a revitalization project with a pricetag of some $3.5 million.

The rest will be disbursed where necessary, such as being set aside in the endowment fund, which will help maintain and preserve areas throughout the park.

“The gift does allow us to complete the Ford Nature project,” Litton said, noting that now the project will be financially sound one year ahead of schedule.

“We had budgeted taking in campaign funds throughout 2021 to fund that campaign,” which will continue, Litton said.

Any money generated above the project cost will alleviate taxpayers funding, Litton said.

“It’s a situation where we didn’t expect to be a year ahead of fundraising,” he said.

Usually, financial gifts to the park may result in naming opportunities. There are more than 15 “icons” around the park that do not have a family name attached to them, such as the popular silver suspension bridge, also known as the Cinderella Bridge.

Contributions to endowment programs, such as that at Mill Creek Park, stay whole in perpetuity.

Work on the stone mansion that is the nature center, which was built in 1913, is being completed in phases with an anticipated finish date in the spring or summer of 2022.

The house was donated to the park in 1968 and in 1974 opened as the headquarters for nature education.

afox@tribtoday.com

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