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Village has final plan for Coke Ovens

May 21, 2012
KEVIN HOWELL - Staff Writer ( , Salem News

LEETONIA - After almost a year, the village has a final plan with which to seek funding for its restoration of the Cherry Valley Beehive Coke Ovens.

Marin Braco, who is using the project as her capstone for her master's degree in landscape architecture at the State University of New York (SUNY) of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, presented her plan to nearly 80 local government and community organization officials at the Leetonia Community Public Library Sunday afternoon.

With overall goals of preserving history, enhancing education and promoting community involvement, Braco said her plan will include full and partial restoration of ovens, multiple ecological habitats and a variety of minerals for walking trails.

Article Photos

Marin Braco, a graduate student at the State University of New York (SUNY) of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse who interned with the Village of Leetonia last summer, presents her plan for the restoration of the Cherry Valley Beehive Coke Ovens. She unveiled the plan at a reception for local government and community organization officials Sunday afternoon at the Leetonia Community Public Library. (Salem News photo by Kevin Howell)

"I felt it was important to show what [the site] was like at all stages of its existence," she said.

Her plan calls for five stages of restoration: full restoration of the three northernmost ovens, and then partial restoration of the remaining ovens beginning with the facade, then partial reconstruction of the facade, then the sandstone walls between the ovens and then just removal of vegetation. Each section of restoration will get larger in size as it moves along the rows of ovens.

There will also be five ecological stages including grassland, shrubland, hardwoods forest, oak/hickory forest and maple/beach forest that display the site's change over time. Materials used throughout the proposed park will also reflect the changing of time, with a variety of minerals that were popular at different eras being used for items such as the walking paths.

Braco also proposes to restore and maintain the pond while filling the trenches with gravel and placing railroad tracks on them, an idea she developed through community input. Her plan will also include pavilions, a visitor center and a walking trail that incorporates the Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail.

Preserving the site's history seemed to be the vital component of the plan, not just creation of a new park.

"It's the connection of the past, present and future that gives communities the strength and confidence to move into the future," said Dr. T. Allan Comp, coordinator for OSM/Vista Teams, a branch of AmeriCorps under which Braco completed her project.

With the plan in hand, the village can now begin to seek funding for the project, which will likely be completed in phases over several years.

"But now we have something to apply for grants with, a plan to present," said village Administrator Gary Phillips. "It makes it easier to get money."

Mayor Artie Altomare said he was happy to see Braco pay such attention to Leetonia's history.

"We're proud of the historical aspect of the village and one of our main concerns is preserving the coke ovens and keeping them lasting as long as possible," he said. "Hopefully we can get make it happen with the funding available to us."

Bill Merdich, chairman of the Coke Ovens Advisory Commission, praised Braco's plan, as well.

"It's like a dream, that we would get a student like this, someone so determined," he said. "She thought of processes that we would never have thought of. [The plan] is very much where we wanted to go."

Merdich acknowledged that the project is a long-term one.

"It will be done in phases, do what we can when we can," he said. "It would be great if it could be done overnight, but that's just not possible."

The village provided $2,800 generated through community donations to host Braco. She spent last summer studying the coke ovens and local community before developing the plan the past nine months.

Kevin Howell can be reached at



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