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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Eight frigid degrees? Turns out, that's a walk in the park

Saturday, January 31, 2004

It was probably 8 degrees, not counting the wind chill, as eight of us waited for the hike to begin last Sunday. We weren't planning to avoid the inclement weather by mall walking, but rather planned to march right into it, near Lake Glacier. What a great name this time of year!
The cold weather was, in fact, integral to the Mill Creek Park hike, which was titled, "Ice-Making by Mother Nature."
I'm not much for the cold, but I'm a sucker for history, and this clever outing promised to tell participants about the Youngstown Ice Co. and how it harvested ice from Mill Creek and the Mahoning River.
We met at the Ford Nature Center, where a small fireplace had an inviting crackle. Ray Novotny, the park naturalist, promised he had broken the trail the day before. "I was the first one on most of it," he said. No surprise there.
"Beautiful weather," someone wisecracked.
I looked down at my half socks and my low-top hiking boots and realized what a dope I was. I borrowed my husband's socks and gave him permission to stay in front of the fireplace while the rest of us "crazies" took a 11/2-hour, 4-mile hike in snow on one of the coldest days of the year.
"It's my crazy idea to talk about ice harvesting," Novotny said as he began a slide presentation. "Now, we just go to the freezer, but we used to have to harvest it."
The ice company
According to Novotny, in 1884, Joseph Campbell began the Youngstown Ice Co. He and a couple of others leased the land where part of Lake Glacier is now. They dug a 5-acre pond and diverted Mill Creek into it.
The company acquired more and more land and got more and more diverse. (It has since metamorphosed into Youngstown Building Materials.)
Novotny showed us a slide from 1906 in which draft horses are positioned on the ice for the harvesting. Another slide showed a conveyer belt that was used to get the blocks of sawn ice up into the warehouse, where sawdust kept it from melting long into the spring and summer. It was probably seasonal work, Novotny said, and, judging from the slides of historical photos, it kept about three dozen people employed.
We stepped out into the sunless afternoon and formed a line, like ducks behind Novotny. I was happy to stand at the rear with Rick Shale, who is a YSU professor and is cataloging some of Mill Creek's historical documents. The poor man in front of me had on low-top tennis shoes. I gave that a lot of thought as I trudged behind him for 90 minutes, with even my boot-covered toes numb. If you wonder at the sense, or perhaps I should say, guts, of males vs. females, four participants were male, four were female.
The first thing I discovered, in addition to the fact that Mill Creek in winter has its own inimitable beauty, is that ink freezes. I couldn't take any notes until I tucked my pen inside my scarf, next to my jugular to keep it warm.
Shale pointed out the Parapet Bridge with its castlelike structure. It was built around 1912.
We followed the trail, then descended dozens of metal steps to view the ice dam built by Youngstown Ice Co., a low-walled dam that went up around 1904. In the distance I could see the Ward Bakery Building and U-Haul on Mahoning Avenue.
We trudged along, with ruddy cheeks and runny noses, until we stood where Mill Creek empties into the Mahoning River. Novotny said there was a conflict between ice skaters and ice harvesters for a time.
After coming up the opposite side of Mill Creek, in front of the ice dam, we saw a whole section of water with islands of ice floating by like lily pads As one red-faced woman remarked, "I'm halfway through my Kleenex, so we must be halfway."
Warm-up break
We took a warm-up break in the Old Log Cabin, which had been moved there during the Civil War from Bears Den. A Dr. Woodbridge used it as an office, charging 25 cents a visit, Novotny said.
Our last stretch took us up Slippery Rock Trail, the second-oldest trail in the park, Shale said. By the time we got back to the Nature Center, I was ready for some warm socks and a cup of coffee, not to mention that fireplace. But, the hike was surprisingly fun and, as expected, really interesting.
For more information about winter hikes, call the Ford Nature Center at (330) 740-7107or visit Mill Creek's calendar online at