By JEFF SCHULTZ
If there is one
thing that is apparent in the new community survey for the Porter County
Parks master plan, it is that parks are valued by local residents.
The Park Board
learned Thursday that 34.3 percent of survey respondents are “very
satisfied” with the parks and another 40.1 percent are “somewhat satisfied.”
Less than 5 percent are either very or somewhat dissatisfied and 21.6
percent said they are neutral.
significant: 79.3 percent said they feel it is at least somewhat important
for Porter County Government to fund park improvements in comparison to
other priorities such as public safety, roads and utilities. Of those, about
27.3 percent of respondents said it is very important.
9.8 percent said
they were not sure and 11 percent felt parks are not important.
How much more tax
funding a month should go to the Parks? According to the survey, 21.7
percent or respondents said they’d prefer to see an additional $1.50 per
month per household be given to the Parks Department, which was a higher
percentage than 25 cents, 50 cents, 75 cents and $1 per month.
“That’s a pretty
big number,” said Ron Vine, an independent consultant who led the survey
along with the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana
University Research Park. “There is value that people see in the park
Currently the park
general fund is equivalent to 53 cents per month per homeowner in property
taxes, which is considerably less than the $1.89 paid in Lake County.
Most of the
respondents indicated that they would support the Park Department having its
own dedicated tax funding source.
More than 70
percent were either very or somewhat supportive that interest revenues from
the County’s investment of hospital sale proceeds be used for park purposes.
Vine noted in his
presentation to the board that walking, hiking and biking trails were by far
the most frequent activity residents used in all parks throughout Porter
County. Other popular answers included the Dunes, nature trails, fairgrounds
and swimming areas.
About 50 percent of
survey takers said they have visited the Porter County Parks in the past
year, about the same for city parks, while 63 percent have visited Indiana
Dunes State Park and 64.6 percent have gone to the National Lakeshore.
environmental protection and maintaining natural areas were the two most
preferred choices of actions residents desire to see the Parks Department
take, followed by developing connected trail systems and acquiring land to
develop trails. More respondents said they would favor the development of a
sports complex and add more festivals to Sunset Hill Farm than developing
majority of respondents said they are in support of a youth and adult sports
complex, like the proposed Aukiki Park on Ind. 49 north of Kouts.
Over 25 percent
said they think its “very important” to have the environmental education
center be built at Sunset Hill Farm and 40 percent saying it’s somewhat
important to them.
-- Sunset Hill Farm
was by far the most visited park in the system. Second was the Calumet
Trail, third was Brincka-Cross Gardens and fourth was Dunn’s Bridge.
-- The annual
Winter Lights Festival was the biggest reason residents visited Sunset Hill
Farm this year. Vine said that’s the first time he’s seen an event be the
-- About 72 percent
said they were not aware that over 281 acres of open space has been acquired
by the department in the past three years without the use of tax dollars and
23.2 percent said they were.
Vine said 460
households sent in survey responses, a total response rate of 9.2 percent.
The survey holds a 95 percent confidence level, he said.
Board member David
Canright said he thinks the satisfaction people have with the parks reflects
the work of the staff and the popularity of the events. He said more people
are recognizing the Porter County Parks System.
Before the survey
results presentation, members of the Greater Northwest Indiana Association
of Realtors (GNIAR) joined the board for a big check photo-op, presenting
the National Association of Realtors donation of $16,500.
The grant will
cover most of the cost of the Master Plan update, Parks Superintendent
Walter Lenckos said.
President Valerie Rosenblum said the National Association approved a Level 3
Smart Growth Action grant of $15,000, the largest ever for a GNIAR
application, plus a $1,500 match that makes a total of $16,500 for the parks
department. The purpose is to improve neighborhoods and communities through
land use and transportation activities.
“We’re very proud
of this success and look forward to a long-term partnership with the Porter
County Parks and Recreation Department,” Rosenblum said.
Lenckos said the
relationship with GNIAR started when he first met member Joe Wszolek.
fortunate to help the Porter County Parks Department with their master plan.
We are grateful to be able to do that,” Wszolek said.
Park board member
Craig Kenworthy said the grant will benefit the realtors too, since having
good parks is one reason people would want to buy homes here.
David Hollenbeck added that having a master plan, this will be a “linchpin”
for the parks to apply for more grants in the future.
Lenckos said the
master plan committee will take the results of the survey and work on an
action plan. The plan is due to the Department of Natural Resources by
April, he said.
told the board the fate of the offer by Howard Gustavson to donate a
one-third acre parcel near Beverly Shores to the Parks Department.
“Bad news. It’s not
going to happen folks,” Lenckos said.
The hope for the
County Parks was it could sell the land and take the profit. However, the
property abuts land owned by the National Lakeshore, Lenckos said, and the
Lakeshore is not able to pay for the land. There is no other way to access
the property, which is wooded and vacant.
Lenckos said he
will inform Gustavson that the parks department will not accept the
In other business,
Lenckos said the Illiana Garden Railway Society is making progress on a
diagram of how its model train track will fit at Sunset Hill Farm.
The Porter County
Parks Foundation announced it will receive a $10,000 donation for its
endowment fund and has reached more than 40 percent of its goal without even
having officially launched its capital campaign.
The board elected
its 2017 officers, retaining Rich Hudson as chairman and Kenworthy as