Chesterton Tribune



Parks building the case for farm animal program at Sunset Hill park

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The Porter County Parks and Recreation Board gave the nod Thursday to the next step in bringing farm animals to Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

In the next year, the barns could see about a dozen chickens, a cow and a couple of horses, giving the park an appearance of a real farm, along with expanded educational programming.

The concept of introducing live animals stems from the success of the park’s “Feeding Time” program last year featuring four-legged resident Tickle Tickle, a miniature horse, and a few Nubian goats.

A committee was formed late last year headed by Valparaiso veterinarian Dr. Larry McAfee and others who have professional experience working with animals to guide the parks department on ways it could bring more animals to the farm.

McAfee was in attendance Thursday and told the board this “will be an asset” to the park systems’ teaching children about the ongoing life cycle and the care of animals.

“There’s nothing like this in Northwest Indiana,” McAfee said.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos emphasized the animals would serve a need for historical education in the region as well as showing the human connection to the natural environment.

Lenckos presented the board with a breakdown of other animals that could be brought to the farm over the next five years and the maximum costs to purchase and care for them. The first two years could cost about $15,000 with the addition of turkeys, swans, ducks and rabbits.

Goats and sheep would join in the third year according to the plan, donkeys and pigs the fourth year, and llamas in the fifth.

Taking into consideration overhead, buildings and contingency, the overall costs could reach $42,000 the first year and $54,000 by the fifth. However, Lenckos said the expected costs could be lower because some of the animals and supplies could be donated, Lenckos said.

Given the success of the previous animal programs, Lenckos said the revenue generated from programming fees and donations should be enough to cover the costs of acquiring and caring for the animals.

Rental packages for events like birthday parties could also be charged extra to include visits to the animals, he said. Other revenue possibilities are sponsorships and an “adopt-a-pet” program.

To maintain the authenticity of a working farm, animals may be sold at the end of the season.

With the earnings, more part-time staff can be hired to care for the animals and new barns or sheds could be built on the property after the second year for the goats, sheep and additional animals.

Lenckos said the Farm Animal committee is considering building to the northeast of the current storage sheds and negotiations will need to take place with the Porter County Parks Foundation, which owns a section of that area, and the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association, which uses that space for its antique tractor shows.

To expand relations with the community, board member David Canright suggested the park could be a place for 4-H members to keep their animals.

Also, McAfee said the committee is working to make sure procedures are in place to prevent zoonotic diseases, which can be transferred from animals to humans.

“To me this is the most important issue going forward,” McAfee said.

Lenckos said the parks department will work with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Board of Health to prevent zoonotic disease.

Later in the meeting, Porter County Parks Foundation President David Yeager said that his organization feels a suitable barn is needed to house the animals and is looking to use a restricted fund to help the parks department with that.

Yeager also said the Foundation would suggest using the section it owns at the farm as a pasture where animals can graze. He said that this would require a maintenance plan from the parks department.

Ultimately, the board voted in favor of the staff moving forward with the first phase and will discuss costs and funding at its next meeting.

Brincka-Cross trails

In other matters, Parks Planner Ray Joseph presented the board and the audience with the most recent concepts of a new trail network at Brincka-Cross Trails.

Joseph has been working with SEH Inc. consultants on the designs, deciding what kind of trails are best for the different sections of the park. Asphalt, concrete or paver trails would be used around the entrance and garden area. The section of the woods closer to the house and gardens may consist of aggregate limestone or stabilized earth while the woodland areas farther to the north could have earth or woodchip trails, he said.

The plans for trails in the wetland areas show the use of culvert crossings and timber boardwalks in character with the property, Joseph added.

A detailed presentation is expected to be given by SEH at the board’s May meeting that could be held at Brincka-Cross.

Joseph said that because the work is being funded with grant money from the Lake Michigan Coastal Program, the parks department will need to have the plans approved by summer to follow the given timeline.

The plans are also being reviewed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Joseph said.

“We have multiple people checking to make sure these are acceptable,” he said.

The trail network will be 1.6 miles on roughly 36 acres.

Other items:

*  Sign up for Camp FUNset will kick off on Saturday, April 19, at Sunset Hill Farm from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who sign up at that time will receive a $5 discount. Lenckos said he expects the camps to fill up quickly like last year.

*  Lenckos said the Town of Porter’s Park and Recreation Department has reached out to the County Parks Department about delivering some of the programs at Hawthorne Park. The town is hoping to generate more rentals of their facilities by having the County Parks run their programs, Lenckos said.

*  Park board member Craig Kenworthy said there will be public information sessions for the new “south county” park located approximately one mile north of Kouts on Indiana 49. Two will be held for the neighbors on April 28, the first in the morning at Open Door Fellowship Church on Baums Bridge Road in Kouts and the other at the Porter County Expo Center at 7 p.m. Kenworthy said there is a larger public presentation planned for sometime in May which will be held in the Morgan Twp. School cafeteria.

*  The Parks Foundation is looking into getting a new sign for Sunset Hill Farm that would replace the one facing U.S. 6. Yeager said the sign should complement the nature, environment and purpose of Sunset Hill Farm.

*  Rain or shine, or maybe snow given this batch of lasting winter weather, the Parks Department will host the Spring Out to Sunset event on Saturday, May 17. Admission will be $5 per car.

*  The board welcomed its newest member Tom Schnabel who is also the music director for the Duneland Schools. Schnabel is permanently filling in for member Ruth Jarnecke who resigned in February.


Posted 4/4/2014