Chesterton Tribune



County Park Board to explore partnerships with townships

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The recent action by the City of Valparaiso and the Center Twp. Advisory Board to create a combined park board to help fund parks throughout the township prompted a discussion by the Porter County Parks and Recreation Board about the possibility of collaborating with townships for more funding opportunities.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 5-0 on a motion to approach the County Board of Commissioners asking them “to assist in finding the means and mechanisms to create partnerships with township governments to advance the cause of the County parks system.”

The discussion began with board member Drew Armstrong saying that in the recent countywide needs survey, about 75 percent of respondents were in favor of increasing tax funding for the parks system. He felt the board should talk to the Commissioners and County Council about that.

“It seems like we are constantly scrambling to fund projects and this could give us a shot in the arm,” Armstrong said.

Board member Craig Kenworthy said with the merged Valparaiso and Center Twp. park board he worries there will be “a domino effect” if other municipalities do the same thing for their parks, leading to lost revenue for the county parks.

“We would lose a huge chance for benefit to our parks. That’s a concern to me. We should go to the Commissioners and ask how to secure assets and help residents who do not live in the unincorporated areas,” he said.

But board member David Canright said he doesn’t think what Valparaiso did will have any effect on the County Parks system because the operating budget is fueled by the county government’s general fund tax rate. All county residents pay into the county’s tax levy despite what the municipalities are doing, he said.

Because of the frozen levy law, if more funding is given to parks, it would mean money would have to be pulled from other budgets tied to the levy, Canright said.

Board President Rich Hudson said the board had talked before about getting its own tax rate. Canright said that in order to do that, there would have to be a change by the state legislature, which is unlikely.

Board Attorney David Hollenbeck said what facilitated the new collaboration of Valparaiso and Center Township was similar to when they created a fire protection rate for township government, which has its own fixed rate and levy. Those living in the unincorporated areas will pay into the same tax rate as those living in the city do with a small increase to the new park improvement fund.

Kenworthy initially made the motion to see if the commissioners could talk to the municipalities in limiting their annexation powers, but Hollenbeck advised he doesn’t believe the Commissioners have that power. Hollenbeck then suggested what became the motion voted on to explore township partnerships.

On a similar note, Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said the Union Twp. Trustee reached out to him about a potential partnership with that township.

Hunting program

In other matters, Valparaiso resident Bryan McFadden who has organized the parks’ deer management hunting programs for the past two years talked about ways he felt the program could be expanded in 2017.

McFadden gave a slide presentation of the three park sites being used in the program -- Brookdale Park, the Hawk Ridge Natural Area and the former prison property on County Line Rd. The program last year saw 19 hunters participate.

Along with asking to continue the hunting stands at Brookdale Park, McFadden discussed the possibility of improving the pond that is experiencing erosion problems from geese and common carp. He suggested implementing a geese management program.

To combat the erosion, McFadden recommended using an upland filter strip on the east side of the pond. He also would like to see pond habitat improvements.

The former prison property in Pine Twp. could be helped by a 15-30 foot filter strip on the west side of the ditch that runs through the property on the southeast corner.

Hawk Ridge, or the “Caine” property, has a tremendous number of deer, said McFadden, and could be a place to hunt wild game birds.

Armstrong commented that he had “mixed feelings” about the suggestion as he believes residents would like to see Hawk Ridge be used as a passive area with trails instead of thinking of it as a place to hunt.

Kenworthy said he had concerns about some of the hunting methods McFadden mentioned.

Hudson asked that McFadden return to the board in a few months to discuss plans again.

Westchester Bird Sanctuary

Later in the meeting, Porter County Parks Foundation President David Neville told the board that a separate 501c3 is being formed exclusively for the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary located across from Westchester Intermediate School on 11th St. in Chesterton.

Canright commended the action and said that the new organization will be able to raise funds needed for the sanctuary and move the project forward.

Neville after the meeting told the Chesterton Tribune that more information will be coming after the Park Foundation’s next meeting.

In other comments to the board, Northern Indiana Historical Power Association member Jack Kashak announced that NIHPA will be holding regular meetings at Sunset Hill Farm at 7:30 p.m. on the second and last Wednesdays of the month.

Also, members from the Illiana Garden Railway Society said they have looked over the locations at Sunset Hill that were talked about at last month’s board meeting where they might be able to put in the model railway.

IGRS President David Ransem said the area where the farm animals are now seems like an ideal location. He asked for board members to meet at the park sometime to discuss the location.

Campground cabin

A cabin will be built at Sunset Hill’s campground area to provide a shelter for youth participating in the summer camp programs at the park, Lenckos announced.

The County Tourism Bureau has granted $2,500 towards the cabin, Lenckos said, which will be approximately 16’ x 20’.

Along with serving as a refuge for campers, Lenckos said the cabin could be rented out for events and create additional revenue opportunities.

Other items in Lenckos’ staff report:

-- Summer Camp registration kicked off last weekend and camps are more than 25 percent full, a bit ahead of last year. Registration can also be done online.

-- Lenckos said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, has completed further documentation to transfer some of the wooded areas around the Historic Collier Lodge on the Kankakee River to the Parks Department in the future.

-- The Park’s Master Plan Committee will meet next on March 22 to wrap up its work. A copy of the latest draft will be posted on the Park Department’s webpage for the public to view and give comments if they wish. The final plan will be presented to the Park Board at an upcoming meeting.



Posted 3/3/2017




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