Chesterton Tribune


New site eyed for Sunset Hill Farm Park barn activity center

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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 proposed center.

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 gather.

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.

Public wants more

trails, recreation

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,” he said.

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.

Happy Anniversary

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 fall dinner.

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.

NIHPA Fall Festival

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 Willing


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 Indiana Dunes.

“I can’t think of anyone who was more of an advocate for county parks than Art,” Herb Reed said.

Posted 9/7/2012