Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Survey shows residents back funding for Porter County Parks

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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.

Possibly more 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 system.”

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.

Providing 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 passive areas.

A two-thirds 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.

Other findings:

-- 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 top choice.

-- 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.

Realtors partnership

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.

Current GNIAR 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.

“We’ve been 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.

Board attorney 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.

Gustavson property

Meanwhile, Lenckos 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 donation.

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.

Officers

The board elected its 2017 officers, retaining Rich Hudson as chairman and Kenworthy as vice-chairman.

 

Posted 1/6/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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