Chesterton Tribune



Council favorable to wetland bird sanctuary off 11th Street

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Here’s what Dick Maxey and Tim Cole of the Porter County Parks Foundation did on Monday night: introduce to the Chesterton Town Council a splendid idea for restoring a wetland west of 11th Street into a migratory shorebird habitat.

Here’s what Maxey and Cole didn’t do: come with hat in hand.

Council members loved the idea, and not just because the Town of Chesterton isn’t on the hook for funding it.

As Maxey noted--truly--birders from across the state would travel to Chesterton, and incidentally spend their money here, for glimpses of phalaropes, curlews, and godwits.

The land in question, totaling around 39 acres right now, is located directed across 11th Street from the entrance to Westchester Intermediate School. The next time you pass WIS, look for the sign posted by the Parks Foundation announcing the future site of the bird sanctuary.

Eventually, the Parks Foundation hopes to own as many as 50 or 60 acres. In any event, the organization began purchasing the land in 2001 with the specific mission of restoring it to usable habitat.

The restoration part is key, Cole told the council, because at the moment the land is a veritable “wasteland.” Back in the day, when 11th Street was just a dirt road with a dead end half a mile south of West Porter Ave., folks used to dump stuff in the wetland. Calling it a wetland now is something of an act of wishful thinking, as there are no birds, no reptiles, no amphibians, no animals of any sort, as “nothing can grow there that is of any nutritional value to wildlife,” Cole said.

But, he added, “if we can clear it, deepen it, put in some ponds, wildlife will return. And birders will come from miles away to see the birds.”

Matt Keiser of Abonmarche, working for the Parks Foundation, told the council that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to conduct a formal wetland delineation of the site next month. In the meantime, a topographic survey and conceptual layout have been completed.

Among the features of the design would be three artificial ponds with sloping bottoms whose water levels would be regulated. Migrating birds would see the ponds from the air and recognize them as sources of food. “We can attract different types of birds at different seasons,” Keiser said.

Also: the Parks Foundation is looking to acquire some non-wetland acreage to use for off-street parking to make the site easily accessible.

So far, the Parks Foundation has had “amazing support” for the project, Cole said, from state and federal agencies and from environmental organizations as well, including the Northwest Indiana Migratory Bird Association, the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and the Indiana Audubon Society.

Maxey made it clear that the Parks Foundation is not looking for “financial support” from the town--not that anyone would turn it down, of course--although some in-kind services, when the time is right, would be welcome.

Council members liked the idea. A lot.

“It’s just such a refreshing project,” said Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th.

“I think it’s a great idea,” agreed Member Jeff Trout, R-2nd.

The council did specifically act in two ways: it voted 5-0 formally to endorse the idea of restoring the wetland and making it a migratory shorebird sanctuary. And it appointed Member Jim Ton, R-1st, to serve as the town’s liaison with the Parks Foundation.

“We want to follow all the town regulations,” Maxey emphasized, “to make this a state-of-the-art area.”


Posted 4/16/2014