Chesterton Tribune



Foundation eyes bird sanctuary in Chesterton

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Bird and wildlife sanctuary planned in Chesterton: Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke (left) tours 39 acres of wetland property with members of the non-profit Porter County Parks Foundation, Richard Maxey and Tim Cole. The site, on the west side of 11th Street, is the future site of a proposed “North Coast Bird Sanctuary” in Chesterton. The Foundation will be assisted by local groups like the Shirley Heinze Land Trust to clear out waste and invasive species and eventually will create a series of islands to observe migratory birds. Breitzke is helping the foundation map the property. (Tribune photo by Jeff Schultz)



Here’s something that literally is for the birds.

Members of the Porter County Parks Foundation Tim Cole and Richard Maxey are spearheading an effort to turn the Foundation’s 39 acres of wetlands between the Park Place Subdivision and Westchester Intermediate School into the county’s first public bird sanctuary.

The location is within the town limits of Chesterton on the west side of 11th Street, less than a mile north of the Chesterton High School.

Cole, at a recent Foundation meeting, pitched to his peers the idea of establishing the “North Coast Migratory Bird Sanctuary” on the 19 acre parcel the Foundation has owned for 13 years and got permission to move forward with purchasing 20 more acres immediately east of the property.

Both he and Maxey said they closed on the purchase with the owner last Wednesday and will start cleaning up the property removing garbage and invasive plant species with the help of the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, which specializes in ecosystem preservation and management.

Maxey said the site, when developed, will be a “major tourist destination.” The Foundation is hoping to acquire two more parcels to the south that would boost its size to about 55 acres total.

“If it’s developed to that magnitude, it will be the largest bird sanctuary in Northwest Indiana,” Maxey said.

Right now the property is overrun by peat buildup and tall reed grasses that commonly were underwater until the land was drained. Berms are planned to enhance the sanctuary and protect neighboring residential areas, Maxey said.

The site has never been developed because it is too damp to build on and has been the site of illegal dumping for many years and is an eyesore, Cole said.

At present, the site is not conducive to support wildlife, but great blue herons have been spotted near Griffin Lake, which abuts the property on the west side by the subdivision.

“We decided we needed to do something about it,” Cole said.

Once the debris is cleared away, the Foundation will have crews move soils to create four or five individual “islands” where migratory birds and water fowl can land and be observed by the public, Maxey said. The islands will be developed as a “blended habitat” to accommodate wildlife like ducks, geese, turtles and salamanders.

Wetland friendly plants will be grown on these islands to attract various species. The islands will all be surrounded by open water, Maxey added. To raise the water table by six to twelve inches, the drainage ditch on the property will be dammed.

Also according to the Foundation members, elevated walkways and platforms will be put in that will be handicapped accessible. Cole also talked about having a picnic area, walking trails, a parking area and a bus turnaround that can be entered from 11th Street.

Trails could connect to the nearby Dogwood Park and further connect to the Prairie-Duneland Trail, Cole said.

There will be educational programs for school children in Porter County, Cole and Maxey said, and the site is within walking distance of CHS, CMS, WIS and Bailly Elementary.

Maxey said the property should be dedicated as a sanctuary by the end of this year and will be developed in stages.

Once the sanctuary is fully developed, the Foundation plans to turn the property over to the Porter County Parks and Recreation Board or to an environmental group willing to maintain it, such as the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, Cole said.

The Foundation will fund the process exclusively through private donations, corporate sponsorships and grants, not through public tax dollars, Maxey said.

He also said that the Foundation will not be using any funds that have dedicated for the Raise the Barn Project at Sunset Hill Farm.

The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which helps collect private donations to benefit the County Parks system.

Maxey said many groups have reached out in support of the sanctuary project. Matt Keiser and Michelle Bollinger of the design and engineering firm Abonmarche have offered to donate their time in looking for grant opportunities for the planning and outdoor architecture consulting work.

The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commis-sion has also extended a helping hand to promote the sanctuary with publications and videos once it is developed.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of the PCCRVC, said the sanctuary will become a destination on the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail. It will also be featured in an updated birding guide that the tourism bureau publishes.

Birding is one of the county’s growing niche-markets, Weimer said and added that the Indiana Dunes State Park will be opening up a new bird watch tower in the next week or so.

Maxey mentioned the state park is one of the many groups interested in seeing the development of the sanctuary. Other proponents include the State Department of Natural Resources, the Audubon Conservation Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke and Chesterton Town Council members Sharon Darnell and Jim Ton.

The Foundation will set up a steering committee and is seeking members who will be active in guiding the project along.

“We are not going to sit on this and let this deteriorate. We are going to keep things moving and get them done,” Maxey said.

Anyone interested in joining the committee or to make a donation to the Foundation may contact Maxey at 219-763-2401, Cole at, or Foundation President Dave Yeager at 219-462-7515.





Posted 10/25/2013