Sunset Hill Farm County Park is ending 2012 with great expectations for what
the future holds.
First at Thursday’s meeting, the Parks and Recreation Board voted 5-0 to
designate the area southeast of the main parking lot as the location of the
proposed 10,000 square-foot Raise-the-Barn activity center, which will have
its own drop-off loop with ADA accessibility and a children’s garden. It
will be in close proximity to where the Murray dairy barn was years before.
Absent from the meeting was board member Rebecca Tomerlin.
A drive way connecting the main parking lot and the road to the south would
contain the drop-off area.
A computer image of park layout was presented by architect Tom Varvek who
recently drew up a preliminary floor plan which will be ready for the
board’s January meeting once parks staff make revisions on the overall
The board initially approved the location at its last meeting, contingent on
finding out from soil testing if the grounds were safe to build on. Varvek
said soil borings rendered positively.
Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said construction can begin once the
Plan Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals approves the design. He hopes
to start construction next year but funding must also come first.
Lenckos said the park department has about $700,000, including donations
collected by the Parks Foundation, in line for the estimated $3 million
construction project. Earlier this week the County Commissioners approved on
first reading a fund specifically designed to hold dollars for
Raise-the-Barn. A fund for a $50,000 Lake Michigan Coastal grant for the
children’s garden was also established.
The monies will have to be allocated by the County Council.
Also, the board passed a motion 5-0 to accept a $9,300 bid from Regional
Plumbing Services of Valparaiso for new waterline connections at Sunset Hill
Farm around the buildings and parking area. Board member Craig Kenworthy
cautioned of potential problems digging for pipelines under asphalt so the
board, in its motion, included that the plastic pipes be backfilled with
sand which wasn’t included in Regional Plumbing’s bid.
The parks will have to negotiate a new bid to include the sand fill which
can done as long as it does not go above the closest competing bid, parks
board attorney Dave Hollenbeck said, which is $10,600.
Lenckos said the board can expect parks planner Ray Joseph at the next
meeting to explain more enhancements in development for the north area of
Sunset Hill Farm. The changes have been outlined in the new master plan for
The Northern Indiana Historical Power Association is interested in
collaborating with the parks department on introducing more interpretative
programs and displays at Sunset Hill Farm. The group hosts its annual Fall
Festival and Antique Tractor Show in exchange for various volunteer
groundskeeping around the park throughout the year, an agreement commonly
known as “Exhibit B” in its lease.
Lenckos said he had an “incredibly productive” meeting with NIHPA’s new
president Nick Misch, coming up with fresh ideas they could offer for the
park. Misch, who was in attendance, said he believes the revamped
partnership will “work out quite well” and NIHPA will continue bringing
forward their ideas.
Coming to a decision before the current NIHPA agreement runs out this year,
the board approved a motion 5-0 to extend the lease agreement into next
year. However, Lenckos said he is interested in extending the lease into
multiple years as part of reshaping the “Exhibit B” agreement.
In another motion, the board agreed unanimously to renew the lease price of
$1, identical to the 2012 agreement, to the Porter County Parks Foundation
to use land at Sunset Hill Farm.
Mild temperatures garnered kudos from Lenckos as he credited the favorable
weather as one reason for another successful year for the annual Winter
Lights Festival at Sunset Hill last month.
Parks Communications Director Matt Pera said he counted about 750 cars
arriving. More than 3,000 people enjoyed the lights, crafts areas and
Lenckos said he figures this is the 12th year for the event which continues
to get bigger each year.
“Countless amounts of kilowatt hours have been used up,” he said.
But the weather gods didn’t take all the accolades. Lenckos presented a
plaque of appreciation to part-time staff member and electrician Jack Kashak,
who each night makes sure all of the lights are in working order.
“If it wasn’t for Jack, there wouldn’t be a Winter Lights festival,” Lenckos
In other Sunset Hill Farm news, Lenckos said due to the success of Camp
FUNset this summer, the department will be holding a mini winter version for
three days next month on Jan. 2-4 for children ages 6 through 12.
“Camp FUNset Rocking Resolutions” will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on those
days featuring nature hikes, games and crafts. Cost for each camper is $60
with a $5 discount for siblings. To register, contact the parks department
Board member David Canright said that he read recently there is talk among
some groups of changing the Calumet Trail to Marquette Greenway. Lenckos
said there was a report given by SEH Inc. at the County Commissioners’
meeting Tuesday that mentioned there is talk among regional planning groups
to “rebrand” the trail as part of a larger imitative called the Marquette
Greenway Plan stretching along the National Lakeshore.
Canright said the name Calumet is rooted in Porter County (Chesterton was
called Calumet) and said he sees no reason to give the trail a “Lake County”
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, has said he thinks there
should be a public survey to let trail users decide what to call the trail.
More at Thursday’s meeting:
• Instead of requesting bids, the board unanimously said yes to approving a
2013 lease with Rhoda Farms to continue farming the 47 tillable acres the
park owns in Pine Twp. Hollenbeck said Rhoda Farms has traditionally offered
bids most beneficial to the parks department and has even paid bonus rent.
They asked the lease be honored earlier so tilling the ground can begin
before the spring season.
• Hollenbeck will be retained as board attorney for next year. He has been
the board’s legal counsel since its inception.
• The board scheduled its retreat tentatively for Feb. 23 and will hire Stu
Sommers as the facilitator.