In May, we made our fourth stop in my Exploring Erie County initiative. We spent some time exploring different areas of Millcreek Township.

Bistro 26

Our time exploring Millcreek Township started a little later in the day, with lunch at Bistro 26 on West 26th Street.

The restaurant, locally owned by George and Angie Gourlias, is warm and inviting with a unique menu that includes a mix of American and Mediterranean cuisine.

It also happens to be just across the street from the Millcreek Township building, so it was convenient for our lunch companion – Millcreek Township Supervisor Jim Bock.

Supervisor Bock is relatively new to the job, having just been sworn in to his first term in January. This is his first foray into elected office; he previously served as a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper for 25 years.

It was a nice chance to get to know a new supervisor, and to discuss some of the things happening in Millcreek – and how the county can lend a hand.

Supervisor Bock is the public safety administrator for the Township, which means he oversees police, emergency management and code enforcement and is the liaison to fire and emergency management.

This provided a good opportunity for us to talk about the county’s new Next Generation Public Safety Radio System, which is nearing completion after several years of work. The radio system will unite all emergency responders on a common frequency, replacing the fractured system that was used for decades – and that routinely put both first responders and citizens at risk.

We discussed the subcommittee that is forming through the Erie County Public Safety Advisory Committee. The group will be looking to address the decline of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics in communities.

We also chatted a little about other ongoing county projects, like persistent stormwater issues, the newly created Erie County Land Bank, and a $5 car registration fee that will be given to municipalities to help fund badly needed bridge repairs.

After a lunch of great food and great conversation – and with no room for dessert, no matter how tempting it looked – we headed out to our next stop.

Presta Contractor Supply

Our visit to Presta Contractor Supply took us north to West 16th Street, where the Prestas have operated their business since launching it in 1984.

The current owner, Tim Presta, is the second generation to run the business, and he’s been on board since 1991.

The company mostly sells exterior building supplies, although they do sell some interior products as well. Their showroom features an array of samples, allowing customers to choose windows, wainscoting and more.

The company’s three-facility footprint stretches across the street from the showroom. On the north side of West 16th, Presta employees work on building pre-hung interior doors – a product the company has offered for about 20 years. It was one of the adjustments the business has made over the years to continue serving the needs of its customers.

And those customers themselves have changed in the decades that Presta Building Supply has been in business. The retail aspect (evidenced by the showroom) is a relatively new piece of the business, Tim Presta said, meant to serve a relatively new type of customer – those who want to be hands-on about buying the products, though they’ll then have someone else do the installation. Traditionally, the business served contractors who were buying equipment on behalf of customers. Presta Building Supply also sells to some do-it-yourselfers who buy the products and do the work on their own homes.

Those customers largely come from about a 65-mile radius, stretching into Chautauqua County, New York, Presta said. And the company itself is a customer for other businesses in northwestern Pennsylvania, as it buys a lot of native hardwoods like cherry, oak, poplar and maple from the region’s lumber mills.

In fact, the changing price of lumber is one of the challenges that Presta Building Supply routinely faces. Currently, for example, the price of lumber is the highest it has been in over a decade. Market factors that raise other costs also pose challenges: Aluminum and steel prices have increased, thanks to tariffs, and petroleum-related items, including shingles and transportation costs, are also rising. In addition, demand for home construction products nationally is up, as a result of damaging hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated other parts of the country over the past year. While these costs, and their trajectories, are out of Presta’s control, the company must find a way to meet the needs of customers while keeping prices reasonable.

Despite the challenges, Tim Presta enjoys the work, and his family business. He said he appreciates the challenges of working with new materials and the constant change in the business. “I love working on one project, and then moving on to another,” he said.

Erie County Conservation District

Our next stop brought us to the very southeastern edge of the sprawling township, which covers more than 30 square miles. The Erie County Conservation District is just north of Interstate 90, in the Belle Valley section of Millcreek.

The Erie County Conservation District was started in 1949 by farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Today, that mission continues, along with broader goals of conservation and environmental education. Erie County’s Conservation District is among 66 county conservation districts in Pennsylvania – all counties have one except for Philadelphia. They were established under state law, and they work as a unit of county government, with board members appointed by county elected officials.

The Erie County Conservation District has plenty going on around its property on Wager Road. Also on that site is Headwaters Park, which the Conservation District operates and has been steadily transforming into a true community resource.

One new initiative, launched just a few weeks ago, is a Memorial Tree Trail. Members of the public are invited to memorialize or honor loved ones with a native tree, which will be planted at Headwaters Park.

District Manager Tom McClure and his staff are also continuing work on the Headwaters Park Master Plan. So far, some of that work has included a 900-foot trail expansion, the addition of an informational kiosk near the parking area and the transformation of some areas to native meadows. The Conservation District is working hard to enhance the park, with hopes to expand its footprint.

If you haven’t been out to Headwaters Park, I encourage you to check it out. Go for a hike, enjoy the native plants – and stop by the Conservation District for information or to buy a rain barrel for your home or business.

After our update on the Conservation District, we headed out on our final stop of the day, at the Millcreek Mall.

Millcreek Branch Library

This last visit brought us to yet another section of Millcreek Township, this one in the busy Peach Street shopping corridor. We stopped in for a public open house at the Erie County Public Library’s Millcreek Branch Library, located in the Millcreek Pavilion on Interchange Road.

The library branch recently underwent a bit of a renovation. It gained a new circulation desk, courtesy of Blasco Library, and that desk was relocated to the front of the branch. A reconfigured children’s area and some rearrangement of shelving units gave the branch a new look and a more user-friendly space.

On the day I was there, the Erie County Department of Health had a table set up to give library patrons important information about some summertime safety – including ticks, mosquitoes, algal blooms and picnic food safety.

It was against this busy but comfortable backdrop that I was able to discuss county issues with several concerned residents. We discussed broader community issues like urban sprawl and bayfront development, as well as some environmental issues like energy conservation, stormwater runoff, wind energy projects and more.

It was a lively conversation that provided a fitting cap on a fine day exploring Millcreek Township.