Chesterton Tribune



Croquet group eyes Sunset Hill; board wants public access

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Michael Sawyier, Attorney for the Northwest Indiana Croquet Association, was back before the County Park Board at its meeting yesterday to propose a partnership for creating championship croquet courts at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

Sawyier reported the NWI Croquet Association is now an IRS-approved 501c3 organization, and they’ve “done their homework” and “come a long way” since they were before the Board last year asking for a long-term lease.

The group attended a couple meetings last year to express interest in leasing land at Sunset Hill and building four championship croquet courts. Following the Board’s concerns about public access and drainage from the carefully-manicured and treated croquet lawns affecting restored prairie and pond areas at Sunset Hill, the group turned their attention to Dogwood Park and approached the Chesterton Park Board, where they were rebuffed.

Sawyier said new plans for the croquet courts, put together by Planned Environment Associates, of Chesterton, include a 50-foot wide practice/instructional area in the strip of land between the proposed courts and the driveway to the Park’s amphitheater and a swale to catch drainage from the courts.

“We’ve managed to create a nice public practice and instructional area just to the east of the courts. It’s just a matter of relocating some of the trees there,” Sawyier said.

Board President Craig Kenworthy said he was glad croquet, a relaxed activity, could offer an opportunity for older citizens, but he asked Sawyier how often the group anticipates offering instruction or providing community service, such as allowing the Boys and Girls Club or folks from an assisted living facility onto the courts.

Sawyier was clear: no one who isn’t already skilled in croquet would be allowed on the championship courts. “The daily outreach will consist of playing and instruction in that instructional area, and when the players have the necessary skills, we would be fine with them going on the normal courts. We don’t want people chopping up the courts,” Sawyier said.

“We haven’t fully thought through the matter of instruction on the championship courts,” he added. Sawyier said he imagined a few weeks of instruction in the practice area would be required before someone was allowed on the courts because “international croquet rules are extremely complicated.”

“We want as many members as possible. We can’t have players who don’t know how to play damaging the courts, but again, as a publicly supported charity, a 501c3 charity, we’re very different from a country club. Our aim is public recreation and instruction,” Sawyier continued.

Kenworthy responded, “Can you see where the country club thing can become a sticking point from some people?”

Sawyier said he could, but only because there is a stigma of exclusivity attached to croquet. “But we’d like to turn that idea on its head and have the kids learn croquet in the practice area, and then join the membership,” Sawyier said.

Board member Drew Armstrong asked if Sawyier could expound on his ideas for public instruction. Sawyier said, “It’s not a detailed plan, but we do anticipate having expert instruction for the public” on a daily or weekly basis, though he didn’t respond to Armstrong’s follow-up question of whether or not members of the group would be willing to serve as instructors. Sawyier said he also couldn’t commit the group to providing a certain amount of instruction time or number of free lessons without more thought.

On the subject of assisted living facilities, Sawyier said they would be ideal corporate members, and he has already contacted someone at StoryPoint in Chesterton.

Sawyier said the group aims to have at least 80 members by this time next year and have “corporate members” to offset the cost of individual membership. Sawyier said nonmembers of the group would be allowed to play on the championship courts, “if they have the necessary qualifications”, but he anticipates implementing a user fee. “We need revenue to maintain the operation, and that would involve user fees if someone wasn’t a member or a guest of a member.” Tournaments would be open for the public to watch with free admission.

Sawyier wasn’t able to estimate the amount of the aforementioned user fees when Board members asked.

Board member Annetta Jones asked if players on the championship courts are required to wear certain shoes or clothes, which could be a barrier to people who don’t have the right attire.

Sawyier said special shoes aren’t required, to his knowledge, but he thought the National Croquet Association has some sort of standard for dress. “We will have some sort of dress code. We don’t want people out there in garish attire,” he said.

The Board opted to delegate discussion on a potential lease to a committee.

Staff report

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos made a reminder that the Prairie Magic Music Festival is coming up, Aug. 17. Gates open at 12 p.m. and the music goes from 1 to 7 p.m. Ticket sales are exceeding expectations, according to Lenckos.

Lenckos also noted volunteers are welcome to help with Parks Department projects on Day of Caring Aug. 9. In the morning, volunteers will work at Sunset Hill from 9:30 to 12 p.m., then projects will continue at Brookdale Park from 1:30 to 4 p.m.

Summer programs were a tremendous success, Lenckos said, with over 100 kids each week at day camp and between eight and 24 kids for overnights. “The staff did a phenomenal job. I cannot say enough about Becky and Nicole,” Lenckos said.

A couple of new partnerships will benefit Parks visitors soon, as ArcelorMittal and the Porter County Library have made commitments.

ArcelorMittal has agreed to fund citizen science initiatives through the Parks Department where the public will have the opportunity to join experts to learn things like stream monitoring, bird counts, and owl banding. The Dunes Learning Center, National Park Service, and Shirley Heinze Land Trust are on board, also.

“Potentially, we would attract a new group of people to our facilities that we may not be reaching, and it provides us with data that we may be able to use for management,” Lenckos said.

As for the Library, Lenckos said the Friends of the Porter County Library have agreed to do two storybook trails at Sunset Hill. Parks employees will install storyboard signs on the trails, and Library volunteers will rotate the stories regularly. This will allow not only for park visitors to enjoy the trails more, but also for the Library to host programs based on the signs at the Park.



Posted 8/2/2019




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