Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Park board hears support for NIHPA lease; seance program draws questions

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

About a dozen or so members and supporters of the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association attended Thursday’s Porter County Parks and Recreation Board meeting in support of a new long-term lease agreement for use of facilities at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

In June, the board voted to continue the annual lease it has with NIHPA with the goal of opening up discussion for a multi-year lease involving more collaboration between the parks and the non-profit volunteer group.

Four residents spoke supporting the role NIHPA plays in educating the community about farming methods of a bygone era now that much of the educational programs have ceased at Chellberg Farm in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Speaking first was County Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, who favored a long-range lease for NIHPA to develop more programming and asked the board to remember that NIHPA helped to restore many of the buildings at Sunset Hill Farm.

The group’s Fall Festival and Antique Equipment Show, which is scheduled for Sept. 27-29 this year, brings about a lot of “reminiscing on the way things used to be done” that is enjoyable for those who grew up on a farm, Graham said.

Jackson Twp. resident Donald Dutcher said many children today believe food comes from a grocery store, never learning that food is grown on farms and NIHPA has the opportunity to provide that insight.

“It has the potential to teach children where food comes from,” Dutcher said.

Adding to the comments, Liberty Twp. resident Ed Gutt said NIHPA has the ability to turn Sunset Hill Farm into a classroom “teaching our kids what nature has to offer” and be a “better tool for Porter County to have.”

Parks supporter and Liberty Twp. resident Herb Read reiterated his wish for Porter County to have a “smelly old, manure-smelling, honest to God barn” for educating future generations on what farm life was like.

Board President Rich Hudson said he understands “a lot of emotion that comes with NIHPA” and stated it is the board’s intention to set up a long term lease with a “solution that is good for everybody,” which prompted applause from NIHPA supporters.

In attendance, NIHPA President Nick Misch thanked park board members Craig Kenworthy and Ruth Jarnecke for coming to the club’s meeting this week willing to facilitate communication.

They have begun discussing new ideas for “Exhibit B”, Misch said, which lists services NIHPA gives in exchange for having use of facilities at Sunset Hill Farm.

In addition to the Fall Festival, Misch said NIHPA will be offering half hour hayrides at Sunset Hill Farm on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 6 to 10 p.m. which will include insights about the farm’s history. Costs are $3 per person, Misch said.

Seance program conjures a stir

Also, Park Board members are mulling whether to allow the Parks Department to sponsor a program that was advertised as a “seance” in the most recent recreation program guide mailed to residents this past month.

The board ultimately voted 5-0 to table the matter until it hears from the program’s presenters at the board’s September meeting.

Board member Craig Kenworthy started the discussion saying he would not be in favor of sponsoring the “sŽance” program as well as a few others listed under the heading of “Adult Enrichment” in the parks department’s bi-annual program guide such as “Animal Totems” and “Dream Interpretation” because the spiritual themes are against his religious beliefs.

“I just think it is a terrible idea,” Kenworthy said.

According to the program guide, the seance program will be held on Oct. 19 at Brincka-Cross Gardens Park led by a paranormal investigator and an amateur historian employing traditional techniques to contact “departed spirits.”

Participants are required to be at least 21 years of age and pay a $20 participation fee which is shared between the presenters and the parks department.

As Kenworthy motioned to cancel the program, board member David Canright questioned if the board and the department should be deciding whether to endorse religious or spiritual-based programs, saying those groups should have the right to use the park just as any other group, adding that he would vote in favor of Kenworthy’s motion understanding that it was only to turn down the park’s sponsorship.

Canright said the comments spoken may be just “wild labels and accusation” since the board did not have firsthand knowledge of the program. He said it is possible that the “sŽance” may not be religion-based and that the dream interpretation program may actually have roots in psychology.

“We don’t even know what this is,” Canright said. “It might be a mistake to act on the basis of rumor.”

Board attorney David Hollenbeck said that he did not see this as a first amendment issue because he does not believe the programs in question are religion based.

Hollenbeck did say that Kenworthy’s motion was within the board’s rights, to turn down a sponsorship, as it would be a “legitimate policy decision,” not denying an exercise of religion.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenkcos told the Chesterton Tribune that the department does not endorse any religion or spirituality. All park programs are intended for the “enrichment and entertainment” of residents.

New board member

The board welcomed Kris Parker as the new board member representing the Porter County Extension Office.

Parks to educate county

on storm water management

Also during the attorney’s report, the board voted in favor of a memorandum of understanding with the County Commissioners for the parks department to take charge of the education component of the mandated MS4 program whose purpose is to enlighten citizens about the importance of preserving water quality.

Lenckos said the Commissioners felt the parks department was the best agency to fulfill the integral education segment. The County has recently beefed up its effort to meet the MS4 requirements by hiring Hudson as the coordinator and establishing an advisory committee made up of local officials and environmental experts.

Right now there is no funding for the effort on the parks’ part as Hudson explained the committee and the commissioners will determine costs later and bring the matter to the County Council.

From the audience, parks supporter Charlotte Read said she would like to see opportunities for the public to get involved in the MS4 program and for the meetings to be advertised in the media. Hudson said there would be information available on Porter County’s new website.

Trail improvements

In other business, Lenckos said work is progressing on the 1.5 miles of trails at Brincka-Cross Gardens, which are expected to be finished by the end of this year, along with the new parking lot paid for with the help of the County Commissioners.

 

 

Posted 8/2/2013