Chesterton Tribune

Board hears pleas for ice rink during county park plan input session

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A few citizens asked the Porter County Parks Board to give consideration to opening an ice rink for skating and youth hockey.

On Thursday, county residents were encouraged to attend the board meeting to provide feedback on the parks department’s new five-year master plan, which acts as a guide for programming, land acquisition and meeting community needs.

After a presentation made by Ronald Vine of Leisure Vision ETC Institute, explaining the results of a survey conducted, the board got an earful from four audience members expressing their desire to see an ice rink developed somewhere in the county to benefit children “tired of playing basketball” wanting to try a new skill set.

One of the speakers, John Gregurich of Chesterton, said local families are traveling to the Midwest Training Center in St. John and the Joyce Center in South Bend for their practices. Porter County could really benefit from an indoor or outdoor rink where events could be scheduled, he said.

“Trust me folks, if you build it they will come,” said Gregurich.

While building an ice rink could be a costly venture, Gregurich believed the price could be manageable by purchasing used equipment and start out with something basic, growing it bit by bit.

“This is something that can be done. We are a wasteland not having (an ice rink),” he said.

While others joined the push, Porter County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos told the audience the parks department does not have the assets right now to develop an ice skating rink in a proper way. Current efforts are focusing on land acquisition and the department only receives $300,000 per year in capital funds. The best way to start may be to find organizations willing to partner on the initiative, Lenckos said.

The board’s newest member Craig Kenworthy said capital costs would also have to include utilities.

“You’ve got to realize there is a capital expense to everything but we do not have the capital to reach it,” said Kenworthy. He suggested the audience members talk with the county commissioners about the possibility of using proceeds from the hospital sale for the project.

Board member David Canright said plans for an ice rink should be included in the parks’ master plan so the idea can be studied if the department ever does find it has extra money for it.

According to results from the master plan survey, 30 percent of households said an ice rink is needed while only 8 percent say it should be a top priority for the parks.

Data Shows Demand For Trails, Open Space

In his presentation, Vine said 401 residents randomly took part in the survey from the 2,000 questionnaires that were sent by mail or by phone with a confidence level of 95 percent.

According to the results, 69 percent of residents of the county utilize the park system with 58 percent visiting Sunset Hill Farm County Park, 25 percent using the Calumet Trail, 12 percent using Dunn’s Bridge and 4 percent visiting Brincka-Cross Gardens. However, Vine recommended the county strive for a 72 percent utilization rate which is the national average for park use.

Vine also suggested the parks beef up its marketing to increase awareness among residents. Over 30 percent said they have no idea what the county parks has to offer, which is five percent higher than the national average.

From the survey, 67 percent use parks for walking/hiking/biking and 78 percent said there should be more walking trails. There was also a strong demand for bike and walking paths to be interconnected throughout the county.

“This is a community that really values trails,” said Vine.

Other findings from survey takers include:

• Eighty percent say they are “very supportive” of the county partnering with other organizations on projects and park development.

• Ninety-one percent said they find the county parks to be either excellent or good.

• A strong number of respondents said the county should develop programs for older residents, the physically disabled and youth.

• More residents prefer the county parks to have passive features rather than active.

One notable finding Vine mentioned was 88 percent of respondents said they would like to see the parks department actively involved in acquiring more land. The same percentage said the land acquired should be open space.

Parks supporter Herb Read said he supports the effort to acquire park land and said this will be the time to do it as land in Porter County is being bought up and divided into parcels too small to become potential park developments.

“The clock is ticking. The land is going,” Read said.

Public Input Due March 15

Any county resident has until 4 p.m. on March 15 for their opinions to be considered for inclusion in the 2012 Master Plan, Lenckos said. Input can be submitted by e-mail at pcparks@porterco.org or by calling the department at (219)465-3586.

The Master Planning Committee will meet on March 28 at 8 a.m. at the Sunset Hill Farm Interpretive Center for final review before submitting the final draft to the parks board at its April 5 meeting. Lenckos said the plan needs to be filed with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources by April 15.

The state requires county parks to revisit their master plan every five years.

Master Plan Committee co-chair and parks board member Rebecca Tomerlin said the committee consisting of park officials, developers, and tourism experts has spent nine months working on the plan.

Park Land for South County

The survey results found a demand for the county to develop more park land in the county’s southern half since much of the park land is concentrated north of U.S. 6.

Kenworthy said “thousands” of children in Porter County are involved in soccer, baseball and softball and he would like to see more athletic fields developed in the southern townships.

Canright said he also favored looking for land in south county and was very happy when the park board was able to acquire Dunn’s Bridge in Kouts. He said the master plan should include items on developments in those areas.

Lenckos said the northern center portion of south county is one of the fastest growing areas and park land may be needed there.

Spring Out to Sunset May 19

In the business portion of Thursday’s meeting, Lenckos announced the parks department has set Saturday, May 19 as the date for the “Spring Out to Sunset Hill” which will feature a dog show and a stunt kite team.

In more spring news, Lenckos said the new parking lot at Brincka-Cross Gardens in Furnessville will be complete in time for spring programming in April.

Meanwhile, board attorney David Hollenbeck said he plans to present the contract with Luke Builds for the construction of Raise-the-Barn activity center at Sunset Hill Farm at the April 5 board meeting. The contract has been tabled since the February meeting.

 

 

Posted 3/2/2012