Chesterton Tribune

Jackson Township wildlife preserve asks county to help acquire 26 acre wetland

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The Paul C. Zona Wildlife Sanctuary may soon be getting a lot bigger as an adjacent property owner to the south is willing to sell their 26-acre parcel to the Porter County Wildlife Advisory Board (PCWAB) for approximately $143,000.

Members of the PCWAB, which manages the preserve located at 601 E. CR 950N one mile west of County Line Rd. in Jackson Twp., said they have nearly $65,000 currently in their pockets to put up for the land purchase. They would be able to apply for more grants to develop the additional acreage if they could partner with another group on the remaining balance of the purchase.

PCWAB members proposed the matter to the Porter County Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday.

PCWAB president Bob Gregg and his wife Mary Ann Zona-Gregg, whose family donated her father’s property to the county in 1999, said the acquisition would expand the wildlife sanctuary’s educational programs for school children of all ages and for students and faculty at Purdue North Central.

Gregg said the new acreage is mainly wetlands and he believes it should be preserved.

Board member and conservationalist Bob Helmick said the PCWAB wishes to develop the park using as a model the “Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Learning Center” forest preserve district in Cook County, Ill., which “has been wildly successful” letting visitors and students interact with nature and wildlife ecology.

Hemlick presented a concept to shape the preserve in phases, first with the acquisition of the 26 acres followed by a total wetlands restoration of five to seven acres on the northeast portion of the parcel along with the construction of a 2,000-foot walkway.

The sanctuary lies on the southeastern part of the Lake Michigan Watershed. It is also part of the east branch of the Little Calumet Watershed Study.

The next phase would involve the construction of a nature and conservation building “focusing on the native wildlife and flora indigenous to Porter County.” Hemlick said another ambition is to make available outdoor labs for PNC students and other groups to study wetlands succession.

Gregg said Eagle Scout groups would be able to conduct invasive species studies. He is also eyeing a future bike path for the west side of the sanctuary that could connect with the other trails throughout the county.

“I’d love to see it extend all the way to Chesterton,” said Gregg.

He said the current sanctuary has very limited parking and the new land would have a portion set aside to handle possible overflow.

PCWAB estimated the total cost for all phases of development at $500,000, including the land purchase.

Gregg said there are stakeholders who already have shown interest in partnering for grants including NIPSCO and ArcelorMittal.

Having 25 years of grant writing experience, PCWAB member John Ervin said he knows grants exist on state and federal levels, as well as private and corporate grants.

Gregg said many stakeholders they have talked to have remarked they’re “ready to listen” on collaborative efforts once the land is in the PCWAB’s possession.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the land would need to be appraised before they could consider the matter. He said the county cannot purchase property for any price more than the appraised value and asked the group to come back to the commissioners once they have a figure given by an appraiser.

Once that happens, Evans said the commissioners may appropriate capital funds to their individual districts.

Gregg said other stakeholders in the project include the Porter County Parks Department, County Soil & Water, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Attending the meeting, County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said he “supports acquiring and preserving woodlands and wetlands in Porter County.” The preserve could host educational opportunities for the park department but, like many of the other stakeholders, Lenckos said the land needs to be purchased before the department can get involved.



Posted 3/21/2012