Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Park Winter Lights Festival sees over 1,000 cars; Foundation lease approved

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Porter County residents seem eager to get into the spirit of the holidays as County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said this year’s Winter Lights Festival at Sunset Hill Farm saw a possible record crowd.

Lenckos said over 1,000 cars were counted on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the event. That beats the 800 or so cars counted two years ago which was the previous record since 2010.

“Thank you to everyone involved. The festival was an absolute tremendous success,” Lenckos said at Thursday’s County Park Board meeting. “It’s the largest turnout in recent memory by 25 percent.”

The Festival kicks off Sunset Hill Farm’s Winter Lights display which will be open every night through New Year’s. Lenckos said families can tour the lights for free from dusk to 10 p.m. The park is located at the corner of U.S. 6 and Meridian Rd. in Liberty Township.

Hosting the event was the Porter County Parks Foundation, a separate non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the County Parks system. Sponsors, donors and other supporters were able to meet some of the Foundation board members which Lenckos said was “an incredibly positive thing to see” as the Foundation and the Parks Department continue to grow a beneficial relationship.

Lenckos also commended members of the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association for adding extra wagons to offer rides for the larger crowd.

Beverly Shores property

Also in the meeting, the board heard from Lenckos that the small, one-third acre of land that a Florida resident is considering donating to the Parks Department near Beverly Shores is surrounded primarily by lands belonging to the United States Government--the National Lakeshore, and the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.

Lenckos said he has had conversations with both entities on whether they have any interest in further development of those properties. The conversations have been preliminary but neither entity has indicated an intention to use those lands, Lenckos said.

The parcel is located south of the Town of Beverly Shores on Derby Ave. and is in a wooded area. The board last month said if they end up deciding to accept the property as a donation, it could be sold to gain a profit.

Lenckos said he will continue to speak with the National Park Service and Shirley Heinze Land Trust.


In business matters, the Park Board voted 5-0 to renew its annual lease with the Parks Foundation for use of land at Sunset Hill Farm in 2017.

The Foundation has gradually handed over lots at Sunset Hill Farm to the Porter County Park Board but still owns a 36.5-acre parcel on the north side of the park which the Park Department uses for its operations. The lessee -- the Park Board -- agrees to pay the lessor -- the Foundation -- $1 per year.

Foundation President David Neville inquired if language could be changed in the lease to not hold the Foundation at fault for any injuries or major accidents on its parcels that the Parks Department uses, including pre-existing conditions.

Park Board attorney David Hollenbeck said the lease already does indemnify the owner from accidents. He said this is the first time he’s heard Neville’s request and said he would be willing to talk to him later about the potential changes.

“This is the way it’s been for 25 years,” Hollenbeck said.

Board member David Canright said he thinks the board should still vote to accept the lease, adding “we are comfortable with it” and allow the Foundation to make changes if it wishes.

The board voted 5-0 to accept the lease. Absent from the meeting was board member Tom Schnabel.

Hollenbeck was also asked by NIHPA to make changes in its lease with the Park Board. NIHPA President Mike Andrews requested that the lease say “fall harvest festival and power show” for the group’s event the last weekend of September.

Master plan presentation

For the board’s January meeting, Lenckos said Ron Vine and Associates will give a presentation on the results from the needs survey sent out to 5,000 county residents earlier in the fall.

Members of the Parks Foundation and other stakeholders are invited to hear the presentation that will tell what residents would like to see or not see at the County Parks. A new Master Plan for the Parks will be completed sometime in 2017.

A Master Plan Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. inside the Program Center at Sunset Hill Farm.

Animal program

Parks Programmer Nicole Murray in the public comments portion of the meeting said the Parks’ Animal Program committee would like to slow the acquisition of animals in the plan through 2020 so members can learn more about best practices and care for the animals.

Next year, the committee wishes to acquire sheep as well as two ducks. It wishes to acquire cows in 2018, pigs in 2019 and donkeys and llamas in 2020.

Canright said the proposal should be put in writing and be brought to the board at its January meeting.

Also, Dunes Photography Club leader Deb Armstrong said the club has new photos of Winter Lights for the Parks’ website. The club will host a public class in March on cell phone photography, she added.


Posted 12/2/2016




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