Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Sunset Hill Farm Park eyed for farm animal programs

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Before it became a county park, Sunset Hill Farm in its heyday had enough dairy cows to produce more than 400 gallons of milk a day and hundreds of egg laying chickens.

It was one of the biggest dairy operations in the state, maybe in the Midwest, and on Thursday the Porter County Parks and Recreation Board supported an action to bring back a piece of that history by voting 5-0 to have an ad hoc committee made up of animal care specialists advise the Parks Department on raising more farm animals at Sunset Hill Farm.

As has been the dream of many, the park would be able to show younger residents what life was like on a large farm many years ago, something of a lost art as Porter County has become increasingly urban.

Leading the new committee, which held its first discussion meeting on Oct. 23, veterinarian Larry McAfee, of McAfee Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, said that there are only a few local places where the public can get up close and personal with horses, cows and chickens, none of which provide a traditional farm atmosphere.

Chellberg Farm within the National Lakeshore once provided a similar type interpretive experience but it no longer has small animals typical of a historical farm, McAfee said, and memories of the county’s agricultural heritage are fading.

“There are kids in Porter County who don’t know where milk comes from. They have never seen a goat, cow, pig or sheep, nor have ever petted one,” McAfee said.

Goat deaths reported

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said the animal programs at Sunset Hill Farm have been “incredibly popular and very well received” but suffered a bout of tragedy earlier this year when six Nigerian goats contracted and died of Johne’s disease.

Lenckos said the committee was pursued to help the parks department with ongoing maintenance and disease prevention as it grows its farm animal programs.

Challenge and opportunity

Right now, the park has a few chickens and a miniature horse, known as “Mr. Tickles,” that are enjoyed by school field trip groups. Working with the new committee, the park may be able to feature cows, pigs and horses.

“There is a significant opportunity right in Liberty Township that no one else can provide,” Lenckos said.

McAfee touted the many positives of having the interpretive farm experience available to the public and said it would be different from a petting zoo.

Challenges the parks department and board face include how it would house the animals, working out an agreement with the Northern Indiana Historical Power Association (NIHPA), which has a lease on the barn space, and funding in terms of receiving and caring for the animals, McAfee said.

The parks department has a yearly budget of $2,500 for livestock but there are animal groups and zoos who could find ways to donate “good, healthy, loved animals” to Sunset Hill Farm, McAfee said. There may also be veterinarians willing to donate their time and care, he added.

Board member Craig Kenworthy said a permanent place to put the animals needs to be determined and the animals should be able to graze, not confined to a stall or a small fenced-in area.

“They need to be in a farm setting,” he said.

Kenworthy said he supported the motion of forming the ad hoc committee to oversee the proper care and maintenance of animals at Sunset Hill Farm, as did the rest of the board.

Fellow board member Rebecca Tomerlin said having the professional input of the committee will be valuable.

Prospective committee members include animal trainer Toni Bianchi and Washington Park Zoo director Jamie Huss.

From the audience, parks supporter Herb Read told the board that he has pined for an historical farm at the county park and was glad to see the concept move forward.

“I’ve been beating that drum or blowing that horn for a while now, so I happy to see it coming along,” Read said.

A popular spot

In other Sunset Hill Farm related matters Thursday, Lenckos said Sunset Hill Farm’s park rentals have spiked, with 50 percent more events lined up for next year.

The cross country events are gaining more recognition and the park is getting more attention from schools and universities, Lenckos added. He suggested improvements be made to the trails that have suffered recent erosion.

Groups of volunteers were also out at the park recently to plant trees, replacing the ash trees removed last year due to emerald ash borer infestations. At a suggestion by Kenworthy, the department is considering offering residents the opportunity to plant memorial trees.

Parks Planner Ray Joseph told the board he has put together the restoration plan for Sunset Hill Farm’s south field and pond.

Also, Lenckos announced that in addition to the $5,000 grant received from Arcelor-Mittal for park programming to middle school students, another grant worth $9,900 was given to programming by the Porter County Community Foundation.

Winter Lights returns

Finally, Lenckos said the annual Winter Lights Festival at Sunset Hill Farm will be held Saturday, Nov. 16, with special guests Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The event starts at 3 p.m. and concludes with a fireworks finale at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $5 per car.

Lenckos said over 100 volunteers have stepped up to help with preparations. Special thanks were given to NIHPA member Jack Kashak for putting in extra time to make sure all the lights are working.

 

 

Posted 11/8/2013