By KEVIN NEVERS
consensus clearly emerged at Tuesday night’s forum on the future of the
Chellberg Farm site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU): enlist
volunteers, craft a plan, raise donations, and save the farm.
In the nearly packed-to-capacity theater of the Porter County Visitor
Center, long-time volunteers at Chellberg, representatives of Save the Dunes
Council and Friends of the Dunes, teachers, and citizens all expressed a
general dismay at the removal of the animals from the farm this year and
Superintendent Constantine Dillon’s decision not to hire a new farmer to
succeed the retired Jim Smiddy.
Dillon, however--promising to reveal “the ugly underbelly of how national
parks work, so you can understand how we make decisions”--made
his case that INDU, at this point, simply cannot afford to fund the position
He began with this observation: that the Chellberg site has not been closed,
the school programs have not been stopped, the buildings are not being
removed, and the crops and garden have not been eliminated. Only one thing
has changed, Dillon said: the animals have been sold because the resources
were not available to care for them properly.
(Although the crops and garden have not been eliminated, Resource Manager
Ted Winterfeld did say later in the forum that so far he has had no luck in
recruiting volunteers to plant, maintain, and harvest either a crop or the
garden, in lieu of a farmer on staff. From the audience one person noted
that, if crops haven’t been planted by now, they will not be this season.)
Dillon then adduced some grim statistics:
*Of the 2 million visitors to INDU last year, only 5.4 percent stopped at
Chellberg. Attendance at events there increased the total number by only
*Between 2003 and 2009, INDU’s
operating budget increased by 17 percent, Dillon said. Over the same period,
personnel costs increased by 23 percent and non-personnel costs--fuel,
equipment, supplies, utilities--increased by 39 percent.
*The relatively flat-line budget, in conjunction with spiking costs, has
forced the elimination of numerous staff positions, Dillon said, and since
2003 the number of National Park Service (NPS) employees at INDU has fallen
from 101 to 76, a deceacrease of 25 percent.
*When Smiddy retired last year, Dillon said, he made the decision not to
replace him. INDU currently employs only five rangers--“We used to have more
than double that”--to patrol 120 miles of boundary, 45 miles of trails, and
15 miles of shoreline. “Do we need a farmer or another ranger to protect
people in the campground?” he asked.
*It costs around
$125,000 to operate Chellberg, Dillon said. Last year INDU received the sum
total of $785 in donations. And INDU is prohibited not only from allowing
outside organizations from soliciting donations, he added, as the Friends of
the Dunes formerly did during the Fall Harvest Festival but--in the absence
of specific legislation--from charging a fee itself at Chellberg.
In addition, Dillon said, the General Management Plan (GMP) for INDU, last
revised in 1993, is extremely vague abut the use of the “Swedish Farming
District”--which includes Chellberg--stating only that the district may be
“adoptively used for NPS programs or will be part of a historic lease
program to ensure their upkeep.” Of the five sites in that district, four
have been leased to various entities, Dillon said.
(In fact, Tom Anderson of Save the Dunes Council indicated later in the
meeting, Dillon was quoting from page 34 of the GMP. On page 40, he said,
the GMP specifically states that “Chellberg Farm will be continued to be
used to demonstrate early 20th century farming practices.” Dillon conceded
that he had missed that reference to Chellberg in the GMP. “So we did have a
little more guidance,” Dillon said. “And we have to weigh that against what
else the park has to do.”)
Although Dillon made several out-of-the-box suggestions about possible uses
of the Chellberg site--leasing the entire farm and selling the produce to
local restaurants, converting it into a bed-and-breakfast, allowing
volunteers to operate a shop there--the public was having none of it. The
rallying cry: “Save Chellberg Farm.”
The doing, though, will prove harder than the saying. Numerous persons
volunteered to serve on a committee, to begin fundraising operations, and to
assist Dillon in the crafting of a plan for the site. Dillon himself noted
that there’s nothing--excepting a plan and funding for the plan--to prevent
the return of animals to Chellberg this summer.
Smiddy himself observed that someone does absolutely need to be in charge of
the farm. Volunteers, he said, can do 90 percent of the actual work, but
without a head farmer “it won’t work.”
For Lee Botts at least part of the solution is Congressional action.
“Congress responds to lobbying and constituents,” she said. “Perhaps some of
us should get together to communicate more effectively to our
representatives in Congress.”
Helen Boothe agreed. “I can’t imagine that (U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st)
would let anything happen” to Chellberg. Visclosky, she said, knows how many
people have dedicated their lives and “their sacred honor” to INDU.
Herb Read also agreed. “We can go to our Congressman,” he said.
Many of the comments concerned the value of the farm. One volunteer at the
Visitors Center observed that youth from urban areas had never seen a
working farm before until visiting Chellberg. A Duneland school teacher, on
the other hand, upped the ante by noting that “children in Duneland are
missing out,” and she added that she “was hurt” when her offers to INDU to
help in the writing of grants for the farm were ignored. A third
characterized as “priceless” the living history presented at Chellberg.
concurred on the exact shape the farm should take. One person advocated an
emphasis on Swedish culture. Another thought that for several
reasons--including safety--Chellberg should exhibit a range of farming
practices across a historical continuum.
One person expressed confidence in volunteers’
ability to raise sufficient funds to support both animals and a farmer at
Chellberg. But another immediately objected to the concept of voluntary
fundraising at all. Ê“We pay our taxes,” she said. “The government should do
The forum ended less acrimoniously than it began, with many apparently eager
to serve on a committee to assist in the drafting of a plan, providing
Dillon with contact information as he begins to assemble a team. “There no
reason we couldn’t have the animals back at the farm in a month if we had a
plan,” Dillon said.
Note on the PPE
Dillon did take a few moments to address himself to the “Preliminary
Planning Effort” (PPE) cited by the Chesterton Tribune in its April 9 story
on the sale of the animals at Chellberg. Dillon said that the Tribune
reporter pulled the PPE “out of thin air” and stated that, in its
recommendations to make certain staffing cuts, it is “no longer a guiding
document” and has “become obsolete.”
In particular Dillon said that approximately a year ago INDU was informed
that it was “relieved” of the obligation to cut a number of positions by
Dillon did say that the “PPE was affecting positions before we were relieved
of implementing it.”