Chesterton Tribune

Future of Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm: Volunteers needed to prepare plan

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By KEVIN NEVERS

A consensus clearly emerged at Tuesday night’s forum on the future of the Chellberg Farm site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU): enlist volunteers, craft a plan, raise donations, and save the farm.

In the nearly packed-to-capacity theater of the Porter County Visitor Center, long-time volunteers at Chellberg, representatives of Save the Dunes Council and Friends of the Dunes, teachers, and citizens all expressed a general dismay at the removal of the animals from the farm this year and Superintendent Constantine Dillon’s decision not to hire a new farmer to succeed the retired Jim Smiddy.

Dillon, however--promising to reveal “the ugly underbelly of how national parks work, so you can understand how we make decisions”--made his case that INDU, at this point, simply cannot afford to fund the position of farmer.

He began with this observation: that the Chellberg site has not been closed, the school programs have not been stopped, the buildings are not being removed, and the crops and garden have not been eliminated. Only one thing has changed, Dillon said: the animals have been sold because the resources were not available to care for them properly.

(Although the crops and garden have not been eliminated, Resource Manager Ted Winterfeld did say later in the forum that so far he has had no luck in recruiting volunteers to plant, maintain, and harvest either a crop or the garden, in lieu of a farmer on staff. From the audience one person noted that, if crops haven’t been planted by now, they will not be this season.)

Dillon then adduced some grim statistics:

*Of the 2 million visitors to INDU last year, only 5.4 percent stopped at Chellberg. Attendance at events there increased the total number by only around 15,000.

*Between 2003 and 2009, INDU’s operating budget increased by 17 percent, Dillon said. Over the same period, personnel costs increased by 23 percent and non-personnel costs--fuel, equipment, supplies, utilities--increased by 39 percent.

*The relatively flat-line budget, in conjunction with spiking costs, has forced the elimination of numerous staff positions, Dillon said, and since 2003 the number of National Park Service (NPS) employees at INDU has fallen from 101 to 76, a deceacrease of 25 percent.

*When Smiddy retired last year, Dillon said, he made the decision not to replace him. INDU currently employs only five rangers--“We used to have more than double that”--to patrol 120 miles of boundary, 45 miles of trails, and 15 miles of shoreline. “Do we need a farmer or another ranger to protect people in the campground?” he asked.

*It costs around $125,000 to operate Chellberg, Dillon said. Last year INDU received the sum total of $785 in donations. And INDU is prohibited not only from allowing outside organizations from soliciting donations, he added, as the Friends of the Dunes formerly did during the Fall Harvest Festival but--in the absence of specific legislation--from charging a fee itself at Chellberg.

In addition, Dillon said, the General Management Plan (GMP) for INDU, last revised in 1993, is extremely vague abut the use of the “Swedish Farming District”--which includes Chellberg--stating only that the district may be “adoptively used for NPS programs or will be part of a historic lease program to ensure their upkeep.” Of the five sites in that district, four have been leased to various entities, Dillon said.

(In fact, Tom Anderson of Save the Dunes Council indicated later in the meeting, Dillon was quoting from page 34 of the GMP. On page 40, he said, the GMP specifically states that “Chellberg Farm will be continued to be used to demonstrate early 20th century farming practices.” Dillon conceded that he had missed that reference to Chellberg in the GMP. “So we did have a little more guidance,” Dillon said. “And we have to weigh that against what else the park has to do.”)

ÊInput

Although Dillon made several out-of-the-box suggestions about possible uses of the Chellberg site--leasing the entire farm and selling the produce to local restaurants, converting it into a bed-and-breakfast, allowing volunteers to operate a shop there--the public was having none of it. The rallying cry: “Save Chellberg Farm.”

The doing, though, will prove harder than the saying. Numerous persons volunteered to serve on a committee, to begin fundraising operations, and to assist Dillon in the crafting of a plan for the site. Dillon himself noted that there’s nothing--excepting a plan and funding for the plan--to prevent the return of animals to Chellberg this summer.

Smiddy himself observed that someone does absolutely need to be in charge of the farm. Volunteers, he said, can do 90 percent of the actual work, but without a head farmer “it won’t work.”

For Lee Botts at least part of the solution is Congressional action. “Congress responds to lobbying and constituents,” she said. “Perhaps some of us should get together to communicate more effectively to our representatives in Congress.”

Helen Boothe agreed. “I can’t imagine that (U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st) would let anything happen” to Chellberg. Visclosky, she said, knows how many people have dedicated their lives and “their sacred honor” to INDU.

Herb Read also agreed. “We can go to our Congressman,” he said.

Many of the comments concerned the value of the farm. One volunteer at the Visitors Center observed that youth from urban areas had never seen a working farm before until visiting Chellberg. A Duneland school teacher, on the other hand, upped the ante by noting that “children in Duneland are missing out,” and she added that she “was hurt” when her offers to INDU to help in the writing of grants for the farm were ignored. A third characterized as “priceless” the living history presented at Chellberg.

Not everyone concurred on the exact shape the farm should take. One person advocated an emphasis on Swedish culture. Another thought that for several reasons--including safety--Chellberg should exhibit a range of farming practices across a historical continuum.

One person expressed confidence in volunteers’ ability to raise sufficient funds to support both animals and a farmer at Chellberg. But another immediately objected to the concept of voluntary fundraising at all. Ê“We pay our taxes,” she said. “The government should do it.”

The forum ended less acrimoniously than it began, with many apparently eager to serve on a committee to assist in the drafting of a plan, providing Dillon with contact information as he begins to assemble a team. “There no reason we couldn’t have the animals back at the farm in a month if we had a plan,” Dillon said.

Note on the PPE

Dillon did take a few moments to address himself to the “Preliminary Planning Effort” (PPE) cited by the Chesterton Tribune in its April 9 story on the sale of the animals at Chellberg. Dillon said that the Tribune reporter pulled the PPE “out of thin air” and stated that, in its recommendations to make certain staffing cuts, it is “no longer a guiding document” and has “become obsolete.”

In particular Dillon said that approximately a year ago INDU was informed that it was “relieved” of the obligation to cut a number of positions by September 2008.

Dillon did say that the “PPE was affecting positions before we were relieved of implementing it.”

 

Posted 5/6/2009