Chesterton Tribune



New Parks Master Plan pushes for trails and environmental protection

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The Porter County Parks and Recreation Department received high marks from its board Thursday in adoption of a new five-year master plan document by a vote of 5-0.

“I would like to thank the high caliber members of the (Master Plan) committee. They brought forth a great wealth of knowledge and experience to this project. It’s a lot of information. There’s a little bit of something for everyone here,” said board member Drew Armstrong.

“It was a fun job,” said committee co-chair and local veterinarian Larry McAfee who thanked the other members representing many aspects of the community. Members included Armstrong, County Planning Director Robert Thompson, Valparaiso Schools Superintendent E. Ric Frattacia, former United Way of Porter County CEO Sharon Kish, Boys and Girls Club of Porter County President Ryan Smiley, Porter County Council President Michael Jessen, Director of IU School of Medicine Northwest Patrick Bankston, Indiana Dunes State Park Manager Brandt Baughman, Realtor Joe Wszolek, County Parks Communication Director Darlene Cohn and Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos.

The plan compiles priorities and maps out potential action plans for the department from now to 2022 and beyond. A copy of the 2017 Master Plan will be available for public view on the Parks’ webpage at

Lenckos gave the board a 20-minute overview of what the committee learned during the development of the plan, starting by echoing a few findings brought forward in last year’s community survey done by Ron Vine and Associates.

“Trails were far and away the thing that people are most interested in. They like hiking, biking, running, jogging and dog walking. The second thing they were most interested in was anything related to water,” Lenckos said.

The survey also indicated a desire for programming that catered to younger people and those over the age of 55, which are two growing demographics in the county, Lenckos said. He said that there were many responses received for the parks to work on environmental protection of wetlands and woodlands.

“People see us as a way to acquire land to make sure stormwater is managed well,” he said. “Out of our fourteen actions that our agency can improve on, providing environmental protections was ranked the most important.”

The plan includes a new facilities location map that lines up with the intersections of existent and developing trails like the American Discovery Trail, the Dunes-Kankakee Trail, the Winfield Corridor and the Porter Corridor. Transportation is a key factor for growth and the corridors are what the committee recommends be considered for possible facility locations, Lenckos said.

The map shows the majority of these locations in Morgan, Pleasant, Porter and Boone townships. Lenckos said the committee is not recommending any new growth in the northern section of the county at this time.

One section of the plan includes implementing ADA compliant and universal design features at its facilities, making them more accessible for all residents. Examples include ramps and handrails at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, ADA compliant picnic tables and written materials for visually impaired persons.

Lenckos said those kinds of features will be budgeted for in 2018 with the facility upgrades that are going to be undertaken by the County Board of Commissioners.

In its listed goals for the next five years, the committee has included:

-- Increase the frequency of usage at Sunset Hill Farm.

-- Identify ways to improve Calumet Trail.

-- Having at least 50 percent of households indicate they are “very satisfied” with the condition of the County Parks in the next needs survey

-- Encourage development of additional festivals at Sunset Hill Farm.

-- Develop indoor environmental education center at Sunset Hill Farm by the end of 2020.

-- Develop Aukiki Park and future facilities with the goal of balancing active and passive usage.

-- Clearly communicate the importance of funding Park and Recreation to key stakeholders.

-- Identify new methods of cross-promoting activities at existing festivals and events.

-- Create connections from Sunset Hill Farm to both Chesterton and Valparaiso via Dunes-Kankakee Trail.

-- Protect natural area corridors, historical attributes and wildlife habitats.

-- Improve and secure financial sustainability.

Lenckos said he will present the plan to the County Commissioners, County Council, Tourism Board and local communities. He told the board he also wants to start talking about 2018 priorities in the next few months so he can include those in the department’s budget which is due to the County Council in July.

Board President Rich Hudson and Vice-President Craig Kenworthy gave their complements to all who worked on the plan

“This is the second one I’ve looked at and you guys did an excellent job,” said Kenworthy.

“We’d like to move ahead with our department, our staff and everything else,” said Hudson.

Absent from the meeting was board member Annetta Jones.

RR display at Sunset Hill Farm

In other actions Thursday, the board voted 5-0 to commit to having the Illiana Railway Garden Society at Sunset Hill Farm. The board has had discussions with the organization’s leaders but has not yet decided the best location for the model railroad.

Board member David Canright, who made the motion, said he would like members of the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association, which uses the grounds to store antique farm equipment, to be included in discussions on the location.

Also, Porter County Parks Foundation President David Nevill said three large donations have been collected for the construction of two new cabins at the Sunset Hill Farm campground.


Posted 4/7/2017







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