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
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,”
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
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
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