While the Porter County Parks and Recreation staff is eager and ready to get
the wheels turning on a revised layout plan at Sunset Hill County Park, at
least one park board member suggested a more cautious approach.
The parks department announced it will hold a public information and input
meeting at the Sunset Hill Interpretive Center next Wednesday, Aug. 8, at
6:30 p.m. to give a visual presentation on what could change in the park in
the near future. One new feature will be the 9,700 square-foot
Raise-the-Barn education center located where the old Murray dairy barn was.
The center would house new education and wellness programs for children and
adults, as well as more activities for the youth summer camps.
Layout changes are also possible for the parks amphitheater which Parks
Superintendent Walter Lenckos said could seat up to 3,000 and could
accommodate new art programs. But with that comes new parking lots and
restroom facilities to serve the increased attendance.
The park could also enhance its trails and campground areas as the demand is
rising. The National Lakeshore and Dunes State Park officials have contacted
the parks department informally about directing campers to Sunset Hill Farm
when they have overflows, Lenckos said.
Along with public comments on the parks’ five-year plan approved earlier
this year, Lenckos said the department is also taking a look back at a plan
developed in 1996 for Sunset Hill Farm.
“Lots of things have changed, lots of things have stayed the same,” said
Those who aren’t able to make Wednesday’s meeting are invited to visit the
to view the diagrams and make their comments electronically.
Lenckos said there is some County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT)
money lined up in the department’s budget to help fund the renovations as
well as the potential of securing some state grant money.
Finding federal dollars would be more of a chore as Congress has passed a
proposal on a MAP 21 transportation bill that would severely decrease the
amount of money to be used for non-motorized transportation such as walking
and biking trails. Lenckos said he expects to see considerably less funding
coming for trails in the next two years.
Board member David Canright said he would be cautious of using CEDIT dollars
for Sunset Hill upgrades, arguing that large portions of the park should be
set aside until the department can accomplish other goals already on its
plate, like the Raise-the-Barn project, athletic fields at Brookdale Park in
Liberty Twp., and acquiring park land in the southern part of the county.
Canright added that the public has said they favor lands that are set aside
to remain natural, without being developed or paved over.
“They like the fact that there are vast areas where you can’t drive,” he
Canright pooh-poohed the idea of using the 1996 plan, saying it was
Lenckos said he dusted off the document because many of the projects
mentioned, like having performances at the amphitheater, never came to
fruition. He advocated reaching out to the public as that method has proven
the most successful. “We’ve got a lot of stakeholders and users out there
who want to be part of process.”
Canright suggested forming a working committee, holding public sessions and
bringing those suggestions to the board.
Thursday was also the last day for Camp FUNset, Lenckos said, calling it an
incredible year and offering thanks to the staff.
Parks programming head Katie Rizer said over 600 kids participated in Camp
FUNset during this summer season.
Board member Craig Kenworthy lauded Rizer and expressed satisfaction with
how the camp was run.
“It looks like (the campers) were having a ball. Running around, giggling,
having a good time,” said Kenworthy, who then segued the conversation to a
heavier topic. Citing the large numbers of children at the camps, he asked
his fellow board members to mull the possibility of having random drug tests
for park staff and counselors.
“It protects us, the county and the children,” he said.
Not every board member agreed with Kenworthy’s notion. Member Rebecca
Tomerlin objected saying she is “personally and professionally” against
random drug testing for several reasons because it can lead to
discrimination and that some people have a medical reason for taking drugs.
Kenworthy said those with prescriptions should let the test givers know.
Taking a middle-of-the-road stance, Canright said he would not be completely
opposed but the board should look at the cost benefits of drug testing
before considering it.
“It’s not a matter of principle; it’s a matter of practical,” Canright said.
Kenworthy said he looked at the county employee policy and saw that only the
highway supervisors can drug test their staff.
Board attorney David Hollenbeck, who was former legal counsel for the Porter
County Council, said governmental units do not perform random drug testing
since it goes against the Constitution, but governments can give the tests
if they have probable cause. He said it is allowed to have a drug test
during the application stage but not after the person is hired. The issue of
drug testing has been considered by the county before but a policy has never
Board member and County Extension Office Educator Annetta Jones said adult
volunteers for the 4-H program are subject to a background check through the
sheriff’s office and must also agree to a behavioral code, which gives
office heads some leverage if there is ever misconduct.
Lenckos said his office does do background checks on applicants but echoed
concerns that it would end up costing the department more than it benefits.
He said so far there have not been any drug-related incidents reported. If
the board agrees on a policy to drug test, Lenckos said he would be fine
with it, but money would have to be diverted from somewhere else in the
being taken to Sunset Hill
After a few years of discussion on what needs to be done about the covered
bridge over Brown Ditch on the Calumet Trail, the cover will finally come
down and be moved to Sunset Hill.
The park board unanimously agreed to hire Hasse Construction, for $12,500,
for the takedown, which according to Parks Planner Ray Joseph includes
removal of the parts, shipping them to Sunset Hill in sections and
installing a new guard rail. Lenckos said the decking for the bridge will
remain over the ditch. No decision has been made on whether the cover will
be restored. It has been a target of vandalism for years.
“It’s just been graffitied all over,” Lenckos said.
Lenckos said he would speak with teachers from either Chesterton High School
or Valparaiso High School on the possibly of having reconstruction of the
bridge be one of their building trades class projects.
In other matters:
• The Vale of Paradise Garden Club and the Porter County Master Gardener
Association presented the parks department with a $600 gift towards the
purchase of a new rototiller for Sunset Hill Farm’s community garden.
• Dunn’s Bridge Park near the Kankakee River has been cleaned up after a
recent spate of bad weather knocked down trees. The parking lot is now open
and much of the park is accessible, though park staff is still cleaning up.
Lenckos said most of the trees planted in the construction project did
survive the storms.
• Parks Manager Matt Howton said he’s tagged for removal nearly 40 trees at
the front of Sunset Hill Farm which have been infested with emerald ash