Chesterton Tribune



New Porter County park set for north of Kouts

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Porter County bought land for a park Thursday night.

Five members of the County Parks and Recreation board unanimously approved purchase of 63.5 acres, between County Roads 650S and 700S, on the west side of Ind. 49, less than a mile north of the Town of Kouts, with $600,000 from its land acquisition fund.

The “south county park,” as it has been referred to, will be the County Parks Department’s first foray into active recreation for sports teams. The land could hold as many as six or seven softball/baseball fields and six soccer fields, according to park board member Craig Kenworthy.

Kenworthy has been part of the group dedicated to opening a park for south county residents. Others involved include County Council members Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, Southern District County Commissioner Laura Blaney and former County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, who was in attendance Thursday and was a strong advocate early on to establish a park at her end of the county.

“They’ve been very instrumental in keeping this all moving forward when it looked like it would fall down,” Kenworthy said. The effort to acquire park land in south county has seen its complications over the past year, as one deal fell through at a location near CR 550S and Ind. 49.

Kenworthy thanked all public officials involved, board members and park staff for “doing the legwork.” He said he shares his thanks with the children of south Porter County who will use the park which was followed by a round of applause from those sitting in the audience.

With the exception of Dunn’s Bridge on the Kankakee River, all other county parks are located north of Valparaiso. It has long been on the minds of a few elected officials to balance out the County park system by providing a park for south county residents.

Board attorney David Hollenbeck said he hopes to have a closing on the purchase shortly after the first of the year. The seller in the deal is Andy Moser of Kouts. The land’s current use is farming.

Hollenbeck said he expects the closing costs to be $10,000, which will also be paid with the land acquisition money the parks department has received from the County CEDIT funds. There will be about $60,000 left over that the department can put toward further development of the new park.

Board member David Canright, who made the motion to make the purchase offer, said he agreed with Kenworthy’s notion to start development right away, even something as small as planting grass seed on the property. Taking actions now will make it easier to fundraise, Canright said.

The board will immediately put out a request for qualifications to seek a consulting firm best suited to making a development plan. The board will decide with the consultant on the design of the park and keep the process moving.

A Land Acquisition and Development committee meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday next week and the board will hold a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 16, to talk more about concepts they would like to pursue. A subsequent RFQ may go out after that using the leftover development money.

Kenworthy said he would like to save as much money as possible on consulting fees, suggesting a lot of the work can be done in-house. Canright agreed, as consultant plans are too often put off due to lack of funds, and said some work can be done by parks staff and park planner Ray Joseph.

Canright also suggested that Kenworthy and other south county park supporters set up a new 501(c)3 organization so they can start collecting donations for the park and also give the park a name.

From the audience, Polarek thanked the board for their decision and said there is a horde of supporters rallying to see the park come to fruition. He mentioned East Porter County Schools Superintendent Rod Gardin, Porter Twp. Schools Superintendent Stacey Schmidt, Bill Hanna and Jeff Good who are associated with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, and various youth sports coaches who are behind the effort.

“There are a lot of people willing to donate their time and talent to get the ball rolling and get these fields built,” Polarek said.

Kenworthy said since this is a county park, he would like to see collaboration from all of Porter County, not just the south end.

Also in the audience, Herb Read, a longtime supporter of land preservation, encouraged the board to keep looking for more areas that would make suitable park land.

Hollenbeck said the RDA a few weeks ago approved a $200,000 challenge grant submitted by the Town of Kouts that would finance bringing sewer and water utilities to the park property.

Grass could be planted at the park as early as next spring or summer, Kenworthy said after the meeting, and one of the soccer fields may be ready by fall 2014.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said the park is intended to be mixed-use with some passive features such as a planned walking trail.



Posted 12/6/2013




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