A library with a scenic view of Sippo Lake. A museum that tells the story of the canal era in Stark County. A hiking and biking track that leads to a multitude of water-related activities—pontoon boating, canoeing and fishing from the comfort of a pier.
That’s what awaits visitors to Exploration Gateway, which is tucked lakeside into the greenery off 12th Street NW between Perry and Genoa roads. It’s only a short drive on an access road from the view of passing motorists.
“Every once in awhile, we’ll hear someone say they’ve never turned off of 12th Street and seen this side of the park,” said Jared Shive, marketing specialist for the Stark County Park District, which shares the Exploration Gateway building at Sippo Lake with the Stark County District Library. “Even though we might be just a few minutes from major roads, once you get back inside of the habitats on the hiking trails, you really feel you’ve taken a mini-trip.”
Miles of trails meander through the natural setting surrounding Sippo Lake, starting just a few strides from Exploration Gateway, a structure that is operated jointly by the library and the park district.
“It’s a partnership,” said Lisa Szeles, branch manager. “We pool our money to make it work.”
Patrons of both facilities in Exploration Gateway make use of meeting rooms in the lower level of the facility for author lectures or nature studies. They might sit in soft chairs stationed by large library windows and read books or magazines while looking out over peaceful Sippo Lake. Then they may step over to the Congressman Ralph Regula Canalway Center museum operated by Stark Parks, which explains in text and artifacts the natural history and culture of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, during and after the period in which canals were strategic in carrying commerce through the county.
“They’ll come in to use the library and realize there is so much here that relates to the park,” said Szeles. “Or, they’ll find out about the library when they come in for a wedding or a conference downstairs. When they do, we describe the rooms that are for rent and some of the park and library programs that go on here.”
Weddings and other family gatherings are frequent special occasions occurring at Exploration Gateway, either in the lobby or the land behind the facility, each of which offers the lake as a backdrop. The Stark Parks section of the structure includes FeLeap’s Lily Pad Gift shop that sells nature-oriented locally made products, including birding supplies, and the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation Science Classroom houses live animals and offers access to bird-watching windows. The Perry Sippo Branch Library, which boasts one of the highest circulations of items in the library system, features a 58,000-item collection, an indoor fireplace, a drive-through book drop, a 400-gallon aquarium and public computers offering wireless internet access.
Exploration Gateway and the park surrounding it routinely are enjoyed in a variety of ways.
“People will come to walk the trails or use one of the bikes we have or visit the museum or stop at the
library,” Szeles said. “They’re coming to use all of the facility.”
And that facility includes more than is visible just from the parking lots that flank Exploration Gateway, and serve trails and picnic facilities.
“(Summer) is the time of the year when the kids come on their bikes with their fishing poles on one side of their handlebars and some books on the other side, or in their backpacks,” said Shive.
The statistics about Stark Parks’ Sippo Lake Park are simple. Total land is 299 acres. Total water is 99 acres. Total trail mileage is 4.5 miles. Still, those numbers don’t tell the entire story.
Sippo Lake Trail, the hiking and biking trail that starts east from Exploration Gateway, then heads south, emerges at Sippo Lake Marina, where there is a picnic shelter, boat shelter, parking, restrooms, a fishing pier and a clubhouse. The Sippo Marina Trail extends another half-mile or so beyond the marina, along the lake.
After beginning west from Exploration Gateway and passing a picnic shelter, the Sippo Lake Trail branches into a series of trails that extend south and surround the Wildlife Conservation Center. Three miles of trails are hidden in the woods and brush west of Sippo Lake, and relatively few people know the pathways even exist.
“The Stark County Park District and Stark County District Library-Perry Sippo Branch share more than a building,” says the page for Exploration Gateway at the website for Stark Parks. “Staff members work together daily to demonstrate a commitment to education, the environment, community outreach and stewardship of financial resources that makes this partnership unique.”