Chesterton Tribune

County Park Board sets aside funds for Sunset Hill activity center

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The Porter County Parks and Recreation Board has approved setting aside $200,000 to begin the construction of a barn-themed activity center and new county offices at Sunset Hill Farm Park.

This amount falls short of the projected cost of the construction, but introducing the motion, the board’s president, Richard Hudson hopes this will show others the board’s intent to go forward with the project.

“We can go now before the county commissioners and the council and show we are committed to the growing future of Sunset Park.”

Once an active farm owned by the Murray family, the property’s original barn and feeding stalls fell victim to decay and the elements. Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos and others believe a barn-themed structure would make an ideal educational setting for park visitors of all ages.

The project, called Raising The Barn, on Thursday took on a new identity as the proposed future home of the County Parks Department offices. This would not only centrally locate the department and staff, but would free up space now occupied at the County Administration Center in Valparaiso, which is thought to be an added incentive for the commissioners to approve the plan.

The board unanimously approved a motion to allocate $200,000 from its portion of the County Economic Development Income Tax funds (CEDIT) toward the Raising the Barn Project.

Lenckos reported on the success of added services and marketing, creating increased public awareness of Sunset Park. He reported that usage of the park is up by 58 percent over previous years, the summer camp being the service component experiencing the most growth.

Other park offerings include running and exercise classes as well as more informal recreational activities.

Lenckos introduced the newest addition to the park’s staff, Carolyn Jones, a certified nature interpreter. A nature interpreter, as the title implies, provides younger visitors an age appropriate exposure to nature.

Jones told the Chesterton Tribune she recently gave a busload of 60 kindergarten students a tour of the Sunset Hill Farm Park trails. She described the outing as a “see, feel and smell experience.”

“The biggest reward of my job is seeing the childrens’ excitement as they learn new and exciting things that nature has to offer,” Jones said.

Jones comes well qualified for her position, with a degree from Indiana University in parks and recreation and having worked at the Indiana Dunes, Potato Creek and Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

In other park business:

• An adjunct faculty member from Purdue Calumet campus, A.J. Morrow, presented ideas on how the University’s Equine program and the county could collaborate to create an equine experiential learning center at Sunset Hill Farm Park. Her suggestions also included a hands-on equine center on the county park property located on County Line Road in Pine Township.

• The board was told by Superintendent Lenckos that the Spring Out Festival at Sunset Park is set for Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and this year pony rides will be offered.

The next scheduled Park Board meeting will be on June 2, at the Porter County Administration Center, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso.



Posted 5/9/2011