Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Commentary: Open spaces of Sunset Hill Farm Park should be protected and preserved

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Commentary

By MARGARET L. WILLIS

The recent proposal to use acreage at Porter County’s Sunset Hill Farm Park for the county’s animal shelter is a wrong headed approach to addressing the county’s need for additional shelter space.

The effort to establish Sunset Hill Farm Park was a long and arduous one that saw citizens from all over the county, from both political parties and from many volunteer organizations, work together to ensure that Col. and Elizabeth Murray’s vision of preserving a rural landscape for generations to come was brought to fruition.

Democrats, Republicans, the League of Women Voters (of which Elizabeth ‘Bips’ Murray was an active member) and many preservation-minded citizens worked to raise the funds to protect the property and promote establishment of a County Park Board to oversee the county’s first steps in forming a park system.

The land on which the animal shelter is proposed is owned by the Porter County Parks Foundation, which has raised funds for the park and has donated acreage as ‘matching funds’ for grants to improve the park. I am hopeful the Parks Foundation will decline to allow the land to be misused in this way.

Parks are a Refuge

Look up park in any dictionary and find “Park: n. 1. a public area of land, usually in a natural state, having facilities for recreation.”

Construction of an animal shelter in this park would be an abdication of our county government’s responsibility to protect this land as a park.

The park is used by cross-country teams and running clubs, hosts children’s nature programs and adult fitness and art classes and provides walking and running trails for the public. Mowed pathways between fields tilled by the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association, or maintained as open meadows, allow walkers to enjoy birds and wildlife while walking the network of paths. Old fence lines are emphasized by native plant and wildflower growth.

The open areas play host throughout the seasons to many festivals. The area south of the proposed animal shelter site offers a wide open meadow experience, while the trees nearer the Northeast corner screen the view of modern development at the corner of Hwy. 6 and Meridian Rd.

Destruction of those trees, and construction in that view line would entirely destroy the open green space feel of the main entry area of the park. This would be a loss that could not be regained.

An animal shelter, with a large structure, parking lot, daily traffic of both animal control trucks and animal adoptee’s cars, outdoor animal pens, animal waste and noise, is not compatible with the park’s original goal and main purpose: to provide residents with a place of quiet contemplation, recreation and enjoyment of the farm setting, open meadows, wooded trails, and scenic views.

The additional traffic and noise generated by an animal shelter would not benefit the neighboring residents or the drivers who must use the already busy intersection daily.

Alternatives

The suggestion to put an animal shelter inside the park has been cloaked as a way to save money.

Proponents would have us believe the county can’t move forward with improving the current animal shelter or build a new one without this sacrifice of park land. This is an absolute falsehood. The animal shelter could be expanded on the current site, there is land available where the old County Home once stood, though cooperation from the city of Valparaiso would be needed.

Recognizing that high visibility of the shelter would benefit the animals seeking homes, there are other open sites near major crossroads in the county which could be considered.

While it is unfortunate that the Lakeshore PAWS group withdrew from a cooperative agreement to help build and run an animal shelter, the county has the skilled staff and resources necessary to run a shelter and has done so for decades. The problem of needing more funding is not going to be ‘cured’ by using county park land to build a new facility. The funding issues will remain.

An animal shelter in this location would degrade the pastoral nature of the park, destroy a beautiful stand of trees and ruin the viewscape. In short it would be a major detriment to the overall character of the park.

Park land must not be sacrificed as a short term solution to the longer term problem of the funding of county services.

Citizens should be able to feel secure in the knowledge that designated park land will remain park land.

 

Posted 8/30/2013