Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Park Foundation aims to fill gaps government can't

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The migratory bird sanctuary currently in the works on the west side of 11th Street, one mile north of Chesterton High School, and the Raise the Barn project at Sunset Hill Farm could bring the Porter County Parks and Recreation board and the non-profit Porter County Parks Foundation closer together.

Foundation member and parks supporter Herb Read presented to park board members on Thursday a letter from Foundation President David Yeager sharing the news about the sanctuary and the desire to pursue other projects to benefit the county parks system.

“We have overlapping interests of saving land to be preserved in perpetuity,” Read said.

Being a non-profit group, the Foundation has an advantage over the park department because of less red tape and bureaucracy in land acquisition.

“We can pick up land quicker and prevent it being used for something else,” Read added.

The sanctuary is an example of such a project. Nineteen acres of land was purchased by the Foundation more than ten years ago but members faced the dilemma of how to move forward with an area that was mostly inaccessible wetland and held little hope of being developed until member Richard Maxey led an effort to acquire an adjoining 20 acres, giving it frontage from the roadway.

Plans to develop the property as a sanctuary were revealed last fall, along with efforts to clean the area of debris, restore the wetlands and create “islands” where different migratory bird species and plant life could be observed by the public. The project, unique to the region, has garnered interest from several environmental groups, like the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and state and federal agencies which have offered their expertise to move the project forward.

The Foundation has said the sanctuary could eventually be turned over to the care of the county parks department.

Yeager stated in the letter that the initial success has boosted interest in the Foundation taking on new initiatives.

A desire to collaborate on projects was expressed by the park board as it renewed its yearly lease with the Foundation last month for use of a few acres at Sunset Hill Farm. The Foundation had originally acquired the property from Col. Robert Murray’s estate before a county park board was established.

Yeager’s letter briefly mentioned the Raise the Barn project and the fact that the Foundation had sold the internet domain name RaiseTheBarn.com to a parks group in Colorado after the project stalled.

Read added that the Foundation came up with the name Raise the Barn and originally envisioned it as a “typical farm barn with animals and all the smelly manure to go with it” to give the children of Porter County an impression of what life on a farm was like.

That plan was different from what has evolved, with plans for a facility with event rental and possibly offices, which seemed to dismay Read, but he was appreciative of the fact there is an effort by the park department to have farm animals on the property. A farm animal advisory committee was formed a few months ago.

Read also expressed his approval of the board’s latest accomplishment of acquiring more than 100 acres of park land, with the new South County park purchase and the addition to Brincka-Cross Gardens.

“As a longtime preservationist, I really like what you do, what you have done and what you could do and that is buying more land,” Read said.

The park board has also worked to expand its partnership with the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association. A retooled “Exhibit B” lease agreement was approved at the board’s December meeting, which states NIHPA will assist with repairs and program enhancement at Sunset Hill Farm. There is also a provision to start a museum committee which will look to create a museum in the farm’s chicken coop.

NIHPA president Nick Misch said Thursday that NIHPA offers its support to the Parks Department on its efforts like Raise the Barn.

“We’re here to help wherever we can,” Misch said.

New board member

Thursday’s meeting was the first for board member Erik Kozuszek Sr., who was appointed by the County Council this week.

Kozuszek told the Tribune he became interested in getting involved with the parks to help improve the quality of life for residents and provide a place where children can learn about agriculture and other topics.

“I want to have a parks system for my kids,” said Kozuszek, who is father to a one-year-old boy.

Kozuszek replaces Rebecca Tomerlin on the board. Board president Rich Hudson said Tomerlin is devoting her time to other things, but still is interested in helping the parks department in new ways, like being involved on committees.

 

 

Posted 1/10/2014