Mark Hopkins, owner
of Hopkins Ace Hardware, has a vision for Coffee Creek Park.
Arguably the most
underutilized park in the town’s inventory, Coffee Creek Park is celebrating
its 50th anniversary this year overgrown with brush, choked by invasive
species and dead or downed trees, whose pond is rarely fished because it’s
shallow and ringed by scrub, whose playground is rarely used.
As Hopkins told the
Chesterton Park Board at its meeting Tuesday night, Coffee Creek Park feels
more like a hinterland than an actual park.
It floods from time
to time, it’s been ravaged by beaver, and unless you know it’s there--tucked
as it is behind the business block on South Calumet Road--you have no idea
it’s there. “It’s wet and it’s hard to maintain,” he said. “I get that.”
Hopkins, with the
blessings of the Park Board and assisted by community volunteers, led two
assaults last year on the brush, the invasives, the litter, the dead fall.
Vast quantities of debris were removed from Coffee Creek Park, and it looks
better than it did, yet Hopkins isn’t content. Merely sprucing up Coffee
Creek Park is unlikely to make it a destination. Hopkins wants the Park
Board, and the Town Council, and the Redevelopment Commission, altogether to
money--and last night he donated $3,079 to the Park Gift Fund, so he’s a guy
who puts his money where his mouth is--the key to Coffee Creek Park is its
proximity to the Downtown. For all practical purposes, it is in the
Downtown. Easy enough to access, if you know where to look: the alley
immediately north of the old town hall, now Coffee Creek Studio, on South
Calumet Road. A little harder to access, if you’re willing to take a bit of
a walk: down the hill from East Indiana Ave. to Lois Lane.
But once you’re
there, the amenities are truly worth exploring: Coffee Creek itself, home in
season to spawning trout and the occasional river otter; a fine place to
bird in the spring; a sledding hill in the winter; a pond to fish, if you
don’t mind dealing with the scrub; a scenic boardwalk and viewing platform;
a large deck with picnic tables for lunch. All these things are there now.
Hopkins, however, is thinking bigger.
“There’s a ton of
room for improvement,” he urged the Park Board. “It’s has so much potential
and it could add so much to the Downtown.”
Begin with the
slope down into Coffee Creek Park from Lois Lane parking lot: Hopkins
suggests turfing it, laying old flat stones for enhanced seating, and
constructing three gently staired paths leading down the slope and into the
park (thereby eliminating the need for the ricketly stepped railroad ties
which have been there forever).
envisions an amphiteater built into the hill at the north end of Coffee
Creek Park, just west of the sledding hill and south of the Norfolk Southern
tracks, for musical performances and other entertainment.
really big--Hopkins sees enhanced connectivity from the Downtown. Not just
via the alley, which could be revamped, landscaped, painted, and signed. But
also via a wide pedestrian walkway where attorney Greg Bacock currently has
his law offices.
According to an
artist’s rendition, the top half of 111 S. Calumet Road could be removed and
a wooden walk- and stairway built leading to Lois Lane, while the bottom
half of the building could be renovated and outfitted with restrooms.
Attorney Connor Nolan wondered, “I don’t know if anyone has talked to Greg
Babcock about taking half his building.” Replied Hopkins, “I did. That’s the
first thing I did.”)
As Hopkins noted,
Thomas Centennial Park is a wonderful venue, but its capacity for community
events is limited and those events typically require the closing of
Broadway. Coffee Creek Park could become the Downtown’s annex, even its
anchor, and a “multi-function” destination in its own right, for ice
skating, weddings, festivals. “Lois Lane could be a real communal space,” he
said. “We could see revenues for retailers at the back of the business block
as great as for those at the front. It just makes sense to make it part of
the Downtown. I truly believe this would put the Downtown on steriods.”
To Hopkins’ mind,
too many Chesterton residents appear to avoid the Downtown and he’s not sure
why. Revitalizing Coffee Creek Park might well give them a reason to visit,
or visit again. “I’m surprised how many people live here and never come
Downtown,” Hopkins pondered. “Why don’t they come Downtown and hang out with
didn’t, couldn’t, ignore the elephant of the room. “This looks really
expensive,” he conceded. “But I’ve been talking to a land