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Recreational township sees an influx of wineries

Three wineries have opened in Milton Township in Mahoning County since 2005. The second was opened in May 2012 by Ron and Mike Birchak, who own the Olde Dutch Mill Golf Course in Lake Milton. It's called Halliday’s Winery and is located at 2400 N.E. River Rd. (Photo courtesy of Olde Dutch Mill Golf Course).

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 6, 2013

Located in the northeastern corner of Mahoning County, Milton Township is known as a “summer place” because of its tourism-related attractions on Lake Milton, but in recent years it has been the site of several winery openings, giving visitors another reason to make the stop.

It all started in 2005 when Myrddin Winery set up its operation at 3020 Scenic Ave. In May of 2012, Ron and Mike Birchak, who own the Olde Dutch Mill Golf Course in Lake Milton, followed suit with Halliday’s Winery at 2400 N.E. River Rd., and last October, Lil Paws Winery welcomed customers to its location at 17574 Mahoning Ave.

“We are an old-time recreational community,” said Milton Township Trustee Chairman Russ Weimer, who moved to the township at age 12. “We are not as well known as the Portage Lakes but the people who live in this area like what we have to offer.

“In the summer we are a destination for boaters and fishermen but in the winter there is not a lot of traffic so it can be tough for businesses to sustain themselves. The hope is the wineries will help by generating more traffic year round.”

The township contains close to 4,000 people and includes the unincorporated village of Craig Beach.

Until the mid-1980s, Lake Milton was under the jurisdiction of Youngstown. However in 1986, the Milton Dam was determined to be unsafe and the city relinquished control to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which repaired it. The repairs were completed in 1988, the same year that Milton Lake became Ohio’s 72nd state park.

“I think the state takeover was a positive,” said trustee and Milton Township native Dave Tomaino. “The dam was in need of repair and the state takeover was a good way for us to get this done and get the water cleaned up.

“The state park increased the number of tourists. Many years before I was born, Craig Beach was a booming amusement park. The village is in the center of our township and we are kind of a donut hole around it.”

Tomaino said while there are other smaller businesses in the township, most residents work outside the area.

“A lot of people are employed at the General Motors plant in Lordstown,” said Tomaino.

The largest employer is the Jackson-Milton School District, which opened a new high school and middle school complex on Mahoning Avenue in the township in the fall of 2009. The Tri-Lakes Public Library is currently under construction near the campus.

“It will be a real positive for the younger generation in our community because they will have the technological services of a new library,” said Fiscal Officer Leni Schulz. “Other communities have had such services for many years.”

In addition to the water-related activities and wineries, there are two golf courses (Olde Dutch Mill and Lakeside Golf Course), about half a dozen restaurants, a donut and sweets shop (Deena’s Sweet Treats), a Dollar General, as well as other smaller establishments.

Construction on a brand new Family Dollar is set to begin in the next few weeks at the corner of Grandview Road and Mahoning Avenue.

“We do not have any industry or big box stores,” said Weimer.

Trustee Harold Campbell said Miller Marine Equipment is closing, calling it a “prime location for a boat dealership to open up.”

Milton Township is home to a large agricultural base, including some second- and third-generation farm families.

“At least 50 percent of our land mass is devoted to agriculture,” said Campbell.

According to Tomaino, some of those farmers have sold their mineral rights to oil and gas companies.

“We have a few active well sites along our border with Jackson Township,” said Tomaino.

He said so far the township has not seen any financial benefits from fracking but officials are hoping the upcoming racino in Austintown Township will give rise to some new businesses.

“We have some vacant property along the freeway, which could be a good place for a hotel,” said Tomaino. “If you look at the freeway between Austintown Township and Rootstown there is really nothing there.”

The township does not collect income tax and relies primarily on real estate to generate revenue to keep things running, said Schulz.

“We are lucky because Lake Milton has seen an influx of recreational homes and condominiums,” she said. “Since some of these are second or vacation homes, they can be very expensive.”

Schulz said the new housing helped shield the community from the impact of the downturn, preventing service cuts and layoffs.

“We did receive a cut in our local government funding but because we did not get much to begin with, it did not have much of an impact,” Schulz said.

There were a few foreclosures and Schulz said officials are using Moving Ohio Forward demolition money to raze about five properties.

Milton Township does have its own police services but the fire department is 100 percent volunteer and Trumbull County handles fire and emergency medical dispatch.

There are a number of cultural and other activities that take place in the state park and along Lake Milton.

Concerts and movies are held at the Nature Arts Center Amphitheater during the summer and through the fall.

“A permanent fence is being constructed around the amphitheater,” said Schulz.

“There is also a farmer’s market there on Saturday mornings.”

On August 17, the Jazz, Wine, Culinary & Art Event will take place along the waterfront, and the annual Cool Cars and Antique Boats Show is scheduled for September at the lake.

“The show continues to grow every year. It is free for spectators and it includes a water skiing show,” said Schulz. “Anyone can bring their boat or car to the show for a small fee.”

Weimer said the township would like to extend the walking path inside the state park so that it winds around the lake.

As for the future, officials said one of the main goals is to attract more businesses.

“It is tough,” said Tomaino. “Businesses here need to be able to make enough to sustain themselves in just four or five months, which means we will have to increase the summer population if we are going to draw more establishments in.”

Township officials said they would also like to see a small retirement development go up.

“I think it would encourage our older residents to stay here,” said Tomaino. “We do not have any type of senior housing so when people get to a certain age they usually sell their homes and move somewhere that does.

“We have a few areas in the township that would be perfect for small affordable homes, and that way we could keep our retirees in the community.”