Chesterton Tribune



Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary spins off from Parks Foundation

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Here’s one way by which to measure the success of the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary (WMBS): by the scores of volunteers and the many thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind donations which the project--still in its early phases--has attracted.

Here’s another way: by the fact that Sanctuary has outgrown both the mission and the resources of the Porter County Parks Foundation (PCPF), the organization which, under the leadership and inspiration of Member Dick Maxey, has spearheaded the effort to restore the site’s wetland and turn what for years had been the Town of Chesterton’s municipal dump into a once again thriving ecosystem and avian habitat.

At a document-signing ceremony on April 8 at the Sanctuary, ownership of the property--the 39 acres off South 11th Street immediately opposite Westchester Intermediate School’s rear entrance, plus 10 additional non-contiguous acres along C.R. 200W--was formally transferred from the PCPF to a newly minted not-for-profit: the PorterCo Conservation Trust.

Going forward, all donations on behalf of the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary should now be made to PorterCo Conservation Trust/WMBS, P.O. Box 797, Chesterton, IN 46304

Nineteen acres of the property were originally acquired by the PCPF from the Duneland YMCA in 2002, with the idea that, at “minimal expense and effort,” the wetland could be restored and a floating boardwalk installed which would cross the site and connect to the Prairie Duneland Trail via Dogwood Park. “With all the optimism in the world and some encouragement from the (Porter County) Park Board, the PCPF purchased the property,” PCPF Member Tim Cole told the Chesterton Tribune.

The land, however, ruined by dumping as well as by a peat fire half a century ago which devastated the wetland vegetation, eventually appeared to the Porter County Park Board as being unusable. “It was not really part of their mission to preserve land that had no use nor to restore wetlands from the years of abuse,” Cole said. The plan ultimately languished.

Then, in 2012, Maxey had the idea of restoring the wetland and returning it to use as a migratory bird habitat, beginning with some PCPF moneys “left over from a failed project,” Cole noted. “People, tired of seeing the desolation and abuse, also rose to the challenge, and the dream of the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary was born. The project under the leadership of Dick Maxey became almost immediately popular. Some additional money came in freely and many volunteers stepped up.”

An additional 20 acres of contiguous land were acquired by the PCPF, located just off South 11th Street. Heavy equipment for use in and around the wetland was acquired as well. “Even some environmental groups showed interest and offered consulting for the project,” Cole added.

But by early 2016, the very success of the project showed signs of swamping the PCPF, Cole said. “The momentum of the WMBS project threatened to overwhelm both the treasury and mission of PCPF. If was, by far, the most successful endeavor, showing promise and future, that the PCPF had experienced in its 30-year history. PCPF had to reconsider its role: was it a land trust, a preservationist group, or a foundation that supported and advanced the county park system?”

The answer to that question is the latter: the PCPF’s mission is to promote the Porter County Parks Department.

Accordingly, the PCPF, “by consensus and with the urging of the WMBS volunteer group, decided that the best advancement of for WMBS and the mission of PCPF, would be to separate their causes to more clearly focus the work of both groups,” Cole said. “It was decided in November 2016 to pursue a friendly and supportive separation.”

Work thus began on the establishment of a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization--the PorterCo Conservation Trust--and the papers were duly signed on April 8.

“As for the PCPF, that organization is now free to pursue its original cause of support for a recreational park system in the county and considers itself the proud parent of a thoroughly worthwhile land trust organization that now finds itself more able to enlarge its mission and work independently,” Cole said.


Posted 4/20/2017




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