Chesterton Tribune



Sunset Hill park playground picked for national funding campaign

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The natural children’s playground planned for Sunset Hill Farm is getting attention from the big leagues.

“I never ever get to say this but we are a ‘national model,’” Porter County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos told his board at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a really exciting thing.”

As Lenckos explained, the National Recreation and Park Association has selected the county parks department as part of their “Fund Your Park” crowdfunding campaign this year for 10 “top-priority” summer camp projects across the country.

The campaign will specifically fund the first development phase of the playground which will mainly consist of a Native-American theme play area with a goal of $25,000.

Lenckos said donations can be made on the NPRA’s website,, or it can be searched for on the fundraising website, The campaign will kick off Tuesday, Sept. 9, and will run for 45 days.

Any money that exceeds the goal will be used for further development of the playground, Lenckos said. Parks Planner Ray Joseph estimated the grand total including all installments of the playground will be $492,000 and grants will be sought to help cover costs.

Completing the playground in stages will likely cut costs as volunteers can help with each phase of the project, Joseph said.

During the meeting, Joseph and architect Andy Howard of Hitchcock Design presented concepts for the 1.5 acre “environmental learning” playground, replete with educational opportunities for children of different learning abilities.

Kids can crawl into a birch bark canoe, build a wigwam in the Native-American play area, observe different types of model turtles in the turtle pit, challenge themselves in the stone labyrinth, dig for “fossils” of prehistoric native species, search for fossil imprints on the woodland floor, hear stories while resting on great stone boulders, all while getting a sense of the legacy of Sunset Hill Farm, Howard said.

“They can use pea gravel and create a canvas. Kids love to grapple with and change their environment,” he said.

The features were chosen by a steering committee with representatives from Opportunity Enterprises, the National Park Service, Parents as Teachers, park staff and community members, Lenckos said. The site will be handicap accessible

The Park Board voted 4-0 to move forward with the proposals.

Parks Communications Director Dana Yake showed the Tribune a rough timeline for the playground development which shows site design is set to be finalized by the end of this year. Site preparation will begin early next year with construction to follow. The playground could be open by fall 2015.

From the audience, parks supporter Herb Read said his view of playground equipment is usually “dim,” but he would agree that what he’s seen here “seems to be very good.”

In another matter related to Sunset Hill Farm, the board gave Lenckos approval to proceed with construction plans for the “Raise the Barn” education and administration center, working with planners from Varvek Architects and Hasse Construction.

Board president Richard Hudson said the goal is to get a better idea of the actual costs so the board can start collecting donations and pitch to the County Council for financial support of the project since the building will also hold administrative offices for the County.

The parks department hopes it can soon collect bids for construction.

Board member Craig Kenworthy said he’d rather make sure the department has enough money to cover the project before the bidding process starts.

Also, the board wished Parks Manager Matt Howton well as he has accepted a job with Urschel Laboratories at their new headquarters.

A farewell celebration is planned for Friday at 4 p.m. at the Sunset Hill interpretive center.

Lenckos lauded Howton as “one of the hardest working individuals” he’s worked with. Howton thanked the board for their support during the 14 years he’s worked for the department.

Absent from the meeting Tuesday were park board members Annetta Jones and Erik Kozuszek.

In other business,

-- The Northern Indiana Historical Power Association will present its annual Fall Festival and Antique Equipment Show at Sunset Hill Farm on Sept. 26-28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring demonstrations, crafts, kiddie tractor pull, petting zoo and other entertainment. NIHPA will also have a float in this weekend’s Popcorn Festival Parade, president Nick Misch said. An education day for local 4th graders will be this Friday.

-- The Porter County Parks Foundation reported acquiring a reconditioned backhoe for the development of the future migratory bird sanctuary on 11th Street across from the Westchester Intermediate School.

-- A local veterinarian has submitted recommendations for the parks department to follow on keeping animals safe and healthy in the Animal Farm Program at Sunset Hill Farm, which go along with suggestions Kenworthy made at the August meeting.

-- The parks’ partnership with John and Mary Hodson of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society will be expanded. Parks staff will gather ideas on educational programming which could begin next spring.

-- Groundbreaking for the 1.3 miles of new trails at Brincka-Cross Gardens will be held next month, Lenckos said.

-- Plans for new trails around the pond and prairie restoration at Sunset Hill Farm are being finalized by Joseph. The trails will be ADA accessible for visitors with limited mobility, he said.


Posted 9/3/2014




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