The Porter County Parks and Recreation Department knows it has some pretty
big expectations to meet for this year’s annual Winter Lights Festival at
Sunset Hill Farm County Park next week.
Last year’s light show attracted a total of approximately 3,500 visitors,
even a few from out-of-state to the county park located immediately south of
the U.S. 6 and Meridian Rd. intersection in Liberty Twp.
Porter County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos hinted this year could be
even bigger. The lights will be back this year in full swing, he said, along
with face-painting, singing / caroling groups, local food vendors, wagon
rides, cookie decorating, holiday crafts, additional games for children, and
picture time with Santa Claus.
New to the event this year will be the park’s first hoofed residents in some
years. Although Santa’s reindeer they are not, six Nigerian dwarf goats will
be arriving at the park in time for the big day. Lenckos said the goats will
be kept at Sunset Hill Farm to be included in next spring’s field trip
season as part of the expanding programs at the park.
Lenckos said representatives from the Porter County Animal Shelter will be
on-hand at the event.
The Winter Lights Night will be from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20,
followed by a fireworks finale approximately at 7:15. Charge for admission
will be $5 per car.
One really important thing to know, Lenckos said, is that visitors will only
be admitted through the south entrance on Meridian Rd. for entering and
exiting as opposed to entering through the main gate close by the U.S. 6
intersection. Officers from the Porter County Sheriff’s Police will be there
to guide visitors along.
“We’re hoping to not clog up the corner. Everybody will be going South on
Meridian,” said Lenckos. Guests will be directed to CR 700N to get back to
where they need to go.
Although many of the displays will be roughly the same, the parks department
this year is beginning to use LED lights along the fence rows that use less
More than $3,000 in sponsorships has already been pledged this year from
community partners during the planning stages, which shows great support
from the community, said Lenckos.
The department has also distributed 15,000 fliers advertising the event to
school children in Porter County. Several hundred full color posters were
also made up and helped paid for by the county commissioners.
Lenckos said the lights will be available for drive-through viewing each
night until the few days before Christmas. Visitors driving through may view
the lights for free.
“We’ve certainly got a lot (of displays). There is everything from circus
scenes, to carousels to a fishing scene. There are just all sorts of stuff.
It’s crazy,” said Lenckos.
In other matters, the parks department is not letting the winter weather
stifle their Wellness programs at Sunset Hill Farm. A beginner’s running
club is in the works and, more in-tune with the weather, a snowshoe program
will also be starting up headed by Recreation staffers Gayle O’Conner and
Lenckos said the department is acquiring the snowshoes for the program which
is open to all levels of experience. The staff is currently planning trail
walks designed specifically for the program.
“We’re looking to schedule some dates as soon as the snow starts falling,”
he said. “You can tromp around and see the park in a different way.”
Lastly, Lenckos said the fall field trip season at Sunset Hill Farm was very
successful, crediting the good weather as one of the factors. The program
saw over 700 students and 150 adults through the outdoor education program.
Shows Garden Campus at Brincka-Cross
Roughly the same time the parks department expects to have a master plan for
its Brookdale Park in its hands, Lehman & Lehman architects may be able to
deliver a Master Plan for the parks’ Brincka-Cross property in Furnessville
sometime next spring.
The park board hired Lehman & Lehman as consultants in 2008 for
approximately $66,000. Further discussions have struggled to keep up, but
revived earlier this year by landscape architect Chuck Lehman in April when
the 25-acre park opened its garden area to the public.
Focus group sessions took place in September and a grand reopening is slated
for next spring with a full schedule of new programs.
Lenkcos said the park may be divided “not physically,” but a five-acre
Garden Campus portion may be apportioned from the Gardens Park which will be
situated in twenty acres of woodlands.
“There is going to probably be a separate management plan for the woodland
area that would be different from the plan for the area surrounding the
house,” Lenckos said. The decision he said was based on discussions they
have had with landscape professionals.
The two areas have different species of plant life. The park is noted for
its 400 different varieties of hostas.
The property once belonged to Chicago artist William Brincka and longtime
friend Basil Cross. Brincka considered his garden as one of his works of
Lenckos said the garden campus could be developed as a non-profit 501c3
entity to develop its own marketing strategy.
For the Brookdale Park Master Plan, the parks department recently held a
public open house to gather suggestions and develop different proposal
alternatives with cost figures based on those suggestions. The Brookdale
Park will be the county’s first park that will double as an active and
Lenckos said the information gathered at the open house earlier this morning
will be packaged and presented to the park board at its December meeting by
consultants JJR Associates.