Chesterton Tribune



South County sports park delayed; donation possible for Raise the Barn

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Members of the Porter County Park and Recreation’s Land Acquisition and Development Committee at Thursday’s park board meeting said plans for a new county park that would feature sports fields and trails at the southeast corner of Ind. 49 and CR 550 South in Morgan Township have been shelved as of this past month.

“We are going to have to move to another property,” said board member Craig Kenworthy, who serves on the land acquisition committee along with fellow board member Rebecca Tomerlin.

Details of the project emerged in January, with proposed softball and baseball fields on a 55 acre parcel. Officials have been clamoring for a park in the south half of the county since the majority of the existing county parks are north of Valparaiso.

The park board in April had voted 4-0 to make an offer of $407,000 to the owner identified as the Dorothy L. Anderson trust after two appraisals were done.

But for “reasons beyond the (park) board’s control” the sale was never finalized on the part of the owner, said Kenworthy.

However, Kenworthy added that the committee has since located two more parcels in south county, similar in size and status to the Anderson property, but declined to say at the moment where they are located.

Tomerlin said the committee will discuss the properties further at its meeting next week and will report back to the park board in October.

Tomerlin and Kenworthy said that whatever location they end up acquiring in the future, the intention will still be to develop the park for sports recreation.

Willing family to help raise the barn

In other park project news, Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said during this past summer he has met with family members of the late Art Willing, who died in September 2012.

Willing was the first president of the Porter County Park Board and was played a major role in establishing Sunset Hill Farm as a county park.

“He obliviously put a lot of time getting our parks department started,” Lenckos said.

Willing’s widow and sister have indicated to Lenckos that they are prepared to give a sizable contribution to the Raise the Barn education center that could be the spark needed to finally begin planning and constructing the 9,700 sq. ft. facility.

“This could be a game changer for us,” Lenckos told the board.

Construction of the center has been stalled since the idea was developed more than 12 years ago. The Parks Foundation has committed $300,000 toward the project from donations it’s collected, while the parks department has earmarked $200,000 in its CEDIT funds.

The parks department has asked the County Council to allocate $1.5 million in hospital sale interest funds numerous times, to meet the grand total of about $3 million, but the attempts have failed as Council members have indicated they would like to see funding go to the county jail medical staffing first.

Lenckos said the Willing’s contribution would not fully close the funding gap but it could help leverage the remaining funds.

The education efforts for the Raise the Barn will be a testament to Willing’s legacy as a teacher, Lenckos said.

From the audience, parks supporter Charlotte Read suggested the center be named after Willing.

Seance can stay

In other business, a small majority of board members voted down a motion 4-2 to cancel a seance program scheduled for Oct. 19 at Brincka-Cross Gardens County Park.

The board had tabled a discussion at its August meeting of whether to allow the program after Kenworthy voiced disapproval based on the seemingly spiritual nature of the program after seeing it listed in the park department’s program guide.

Kenworthy said he felt it would be “bad PR” to host a seance program when the park board is trying to raise funds for projects such as Raise the Barn.

The seance program’s instructor Jayde Peterson was on-hand to address board concerns and said the program was meant to be nothing more than “entertainment” and was not religion based.

“It’s just meant to be fun and to get people out to the parks,” Peterson said. She characterized the program as being similar to the park department’s haunted trails at Sunset Hill Farm.

Peterson signed an independent contractor agreement with the parks department’s recreational director. She said the event has already filled all spots and has a waiting list.

Board member David Canright said he didn’t think the park board could terminate an agreement just because they don’t personally like the program and that the parks should not discriminate against groups who want to use park facilities.

Board attorney David Hollenbeck said the board could decide to set up criteria for programs that they would be willing to sponsor.

Kenworthy’s motion to cancel the seance program was defeated with votes from Canright, Tomerlin, Kris Parker and board president Rich Hudson. Voting with Kenworthy to cancel was member Ruth Jarnecke.


Posted 9/9/2013