Group envisions nature, arts center

Grants have been used to build a bike trail and buy playground equipment.
CRAIG BEACH -- A group of local residents is raising money to help build a nature and arts center with an outdoor amphitheater in Lake Milton State Park.
The nonprofit Lake Milton Nature Arts Council Inc., was created in the past few months and held its first fund-raiser for the nature and arts center Thursday at the Fifth Season Restaurant in Austintown, said council chairwoman Diane Olenik.
The council also is selling tickets to its next fund-raiser, a beach party with the Jimmy Buffett tribute band Fins to the Left, which is slated for Aug. 7 on Craig Beach. Olenik said the council hopes to have 900 people at the event, and all proceeds will be used to help build the center.
She added that plans for the nature and arts center have yet to be finalized, no date has been set for the start of construction, and the council hasn't determined the total cost of the project. Preliminary drawings show an outdoor amphitheater connected to a nature and arts building just north of the beach in Craig Beach. The beach is part of Lake Milton State Park.
The amphitheater most likely will be like the Falls River Square amphitheater in Cuyahoga Falls, Olenik said, and the amphitheater stage is expected to be about the same size as the stage in Edward W. Powers Auditorium, Youngstown. Once the amphitheater is built, people will be able to come to the park, sit on a blanket on the grass, and listen to bands and other performances, she said. There are no plans for permanent seats.
Olenik said several families in the Lake Milton area are interested in having the center built to encourage the growth of nature- and art-related activities in the community. She noted that the goal of the council, in part, is to "bring nature and the arts to all Ohioans."
Barbara Neill, Lake Milton State Park manager, who also is a member of the council, said the park naturalist would use the arts and nature center to present programs. The center also could host art shows, she said.
Seeking state grant
Neill said the council is working with Craig Beach Village to obtain a state grant to help pay for some of the project. She wouldn't give the amount of the grant request, but she said any money collected at the fund-raisers would go toward a local match for the grant.
In recent years, park officials and local residents also have used grant money to build a bike trail near the beach and to buy playground equipment for the park.
Even though "the state park budget continues to be cut, more is being done here," Olenik said.
Tickets to the Aug. 7 beach party are $20 for adults and $10 for children. To buy tickets, call (330) 654-4989.