The location for the Raise-the-Barn activity center at Sunset Hill Farm
County Park will be discussed by the Porter County Park Board at its next
meeting, although the board passed a motion years ago to build the building
where the old working dairy barn once stood.
Tom Vavrek of the Whiting-based Vavrek Architects on Thursday said there are
three potential sites where the 9,700 square-foot center could be built. One
of those options is in the vicinity of the old barn, which part of which
burned down years ago with the remainder demolished to make way for the
A second site would front on U.S. 6 on the park’s north side. This site will
likely be tossed.
The developers are most keen on moving forward with a third option, building
the barn-themed center on the hill-top site of the existing gazebo to a spot
just a stone’s throw away from the main parking area which would be visible
from both U.S 6 and Meridian Road.
Situated north of the parking lot, a driveway would be accessible from the
park’s entrance on Meridian and would have a drop off area for buses. A
plaza would circle a grassy area where children or other park visitors could
Vavrek said the building would be situated on a plateau with the gazebo
re-positioned to the northeast.
“We would like to place the building in a park-like setting versus one that
would be more rigid,” Vavrek said.
Although a little more costly, hopes are for the building to have a LEED
certification. Building plans should be finalized in the winter, followed by
a groundbreaking in the spring if funding is in place by then.
“I like it,” said board president Rich Hudson as his first impression.
But board member David Canright said it has been in the record for a few
years that Raise-the-Barn would be where the dairy barn stood and advised
that if the site was changed, it would require a formal vote from the board.
Canright said the board should look at the conditions at the two locations
such as quality of the soil and if any additional work needs to be done.
Board member Rebecca Tomerlin – who sits on the parks’ Land Acquisition and
Development Committee – said the new location would likely be less expensive
since the ground is more level and less susceptible to drainage issues.
Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos added that the new location would also
require less asphalt for parking. He said he would gather information on the
conditions of each site for the board to make comparisons.
Canright felt it would be best to notify the County Commissioners and County
Council members of the potential change since those boards are considering
providing funding for the estimated $3 million construction of the education
center. The county is also considering moving park department offices to the
new center, freeing up needed space in the county administration building.
The board is expected to take a vote on the Raise-the-Barn location at its
next meeting, Oct. 4.
Also on Thursday, parks planner Ray Joseph gave a separate presentation on
other enhancements being eyed for Sunset Hill Farm, specifically to the
walking trails, the campground, the amphitheater and playground areas.
Lenckos said the department wishes to be more proactive with the park after
survey takers for the five-year master plan advocated more recreational
programs at Sunset Hill Farm. A special public input meeting was held last
month to hone in on what opportunities should be pursued.
Interest was highest in developing trails and improving the amphitheater
area, with more seating, restrooms and concession stands, Lenckos said.
Comments were less enthusiastic about, but not all opposed to, reconfiguring
the campground to accommodate sites for RVs and “eco-tents.”
The parks receive roughly $300,000 from the commissioners each year for
capital projects and land acquisition and plenty of it will be earmarked for
Sunset Hill Farm.
Forming a timeline, the parks department wishes to work on developing its
loop drive entrance in 2013, create additional pavilions in 2014,
rehabilitate the meadow areas in 2015, revamp the amphitheater in 2016, and
trail development and repairs in 2017. Campground improvements will be made
continuously from now until 2017.
Lenckos said the survey indicated 75 percent of the respondents expressed a
desire for more walking trails.
“If we have the resources to meet those needs, then that’s the next step,”
A video series on Sunset Hill Farm Park, made by Parks Communications
Director Matt Pera, will be made available on the Internet.
Upgrades to Sunset Hill Farm are one of the three top priorities currently
for the parks department. The other two are adding on to the gardens at
Brincka-Cross Park, located in Furnessville, and acquiring more park land in
the southern townships.
Tomerlin said the acquisition committee is looking at the possibility of
acquiring a few acres of available parcels near Hebron and some in Morgan
Twp. which could be developed as park land.
Lost and Found
Meanwhile, Lenckos announced a “lost piece of jewelry that appears to be
valuable and is likely of sentimental value to the owner,” was found about a
month ago on Sunset Hill property and is now in the care of park staff.
The owner can claim the item by calling the parks department at
(219)465-3586 and providing a description.
Where better to spend your 60th wedding anniversary than at the Porter
County Parks Board meeting? Longtime parks supporters Herb and Charlotte
Read received a round of applause when Lenckos mentioned the Reads’
milestone on Thursday.
Canright mentioned their wedding year coincides with the formation of the
Save the Dunes Council in June 1952. Herb Read said the first non-rent check
from their checkbook as newlyweds was for the Save the Dunes Council’s first
For their anniversary wishes, Charlotte said if the parks department must
move the location for Raise-the-Barn, she would rather have it placed on a
previously disturbed site rather than a natural site.
Her husband added that the department should “not lose sight” of keeping the
park as a farm as much as possible.
He expounded on his desire to see the parks department acquire land
concentrated around river valleys for preservation such as the Kankakee
River to the south which could link up with neighboring counties.
“I don’t know if the people of Porter County realize and appreciate what
they have here in Porter County. We are truly blessed by these attributes,”
said Herb Read.
Also from the audience, Northern Indiana Historical Power Association
president Mike Howton said the last weekend of this month, Sept. 28-30, will
be the annual NIHPA Fall Festival and annual antique tractor show held at
Sunset Hill Farm.
Jim Mannel, Art
Meanwhile, this week was a sad one for the parks department as not just one,
but two, important figures passed away this week – educator Jim Mannel and
founding Park Board president Art Willing.
Lenckos said Mannel died Wednesday. Born in Illinois in 1933, Mannel
developed the Parks to Schools program in 2000 sharing his love of nature
with elementary school students throughout Northwest Indiana. A former
school teacher, he had a total of 53 years in the classroom.
Board attorney David Hollenbeck said Mannel had a large impact in the
county. Mannel volunteered as a concierge for the Indiana Dunes Visitor
Center for many years.
“We’ve lost a truly dedicated servant to Northwest Indiana,” Hollenbeck
said, who mentioned a memorial will be made in his name.
Canright, managing editor for the Chesterton Tribune, said he learned
Willing had died Thursday upon receiving his obituary for print in Friday’s
Tribune. Besides being instrumental in establishing Sunset Hill Farm
as a park, Willing was the founder and first president of Friends of the
“I can’t think of anyone who was more of an advocate for county parks than
Art,” Herb Reed said.