Chesterton Tribune



What is the next step in the reinvention of Coffee Creek Park?

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Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace Hardware, has pitched his vision for a reinvented Coffee Creek Park to the Chesterton Park Board, the Town Council, and the Chesterton-Porter Rotary Club, and each body has expressed enthusiasm for the project.

It’s an ambitious re-imagining of what Coffee Creek Park could be: a destination for Dunelanders and out-of-towers alike, an entertainment and event venue, an economic-development engine for the Downtown, including an amphitheater, terraced seating, an expanded sledding hill, and a waterfall.

The question is this, however, as Park Board Member Mark Dickinson put it succinctly at Tuesday evening’s meeting: What exactly would the first step be in polishing this diamond in the rough?

Hopkins, who returned to the Park Board on Tuesday to provide more details--as well as, incidentally, to reassure skeptics who’ve posted to the Chesterton Tribunes Facebook page--told members that the very first preliminary step is scheduled for today, when he and Town Engineer Mark O’Dell will take a meeting with Redbud Landscape Services of St. John. The purpose of the meeting: to disassemble all of the moving parts of Hopkins’ plan, in order to determine the best possible sequence for reassembling them in phases. Also on the table: an initial discussion of materials, sourcing, and costing.

Hopkins did take a moment to respond to the odd misconception or two posted to the Tribune’s Facebook page. For one thing, the amphitheater will be built into the hill on the north side of the park, but it will not--repeat, not--replace the sledding hill. On the contrary, Hopkins is proposing to expand the sledding hill into three lanes.

For another thing, Hopkins said that he has every intention of preserving Coffee Creek Park’s naturalness, and he repeated his belief that the crown jewel of Coffee Creek Park is in fact Coffee Creek. Just last week, he told the board, he spotted a mink at the creek, as others over the years have seen river otters, beaver, trout, and some fine birds. The boardwalk will remain in place, but its overlooks will be repaired and improved, and Hopkins said that very few if any trees will need to be removed: pruned, perhaps, but not cut. “This won’t be some fancy park. It needs to retain its character. This is an old downtown.”

And in the end it’s the Chesterton Downtown which Hopkins is hoping to revitalize through the reinvention of Coffee Creek Park. Make it visible not only to out-of-towners but to Chesterton residents who don’t even know that it’s there. Make it a venue for music, theater, weddings. Make it a place to meet and greet, to picnic, to relax with an ice cream or coffee. Make it, in other words, a viable part of the Downtown itself, an extension of the Downtown, and not a hinterland veiled from view by the South Calumet Road business block. “I’d like to see it useful for the entire community,” Hopkins said. “That’s what parks are for.”

As Hopkins has acknowledged, the limiting factor in his vision is funding, but there are potentially tappable sources. MS4 Operator Jennifer Gadzala, for example, has time and again proved herself to be “Supergirl when it comes to getting grants,” Hopkins said. The Rotary has also indicated that they would like to make Coffee Creek Park a “long-term project.” A crowdfunding campaign could be organized like the one which raised additional moneys for the Thomas Centennial Park boxcar restroom project, and conceivably tax increment financing funds could be invested too. From the beginning, moreover, Hopkins has insisted that much of the job could be done through sweat equity, that is, volunteers coming together with their particular skill sets, equipment and resources, and the willingness to put them to work for the community.

To Town Council Member and Park Department liaison Jennifer Fisher, I-5th, Member Paul Shinn put this question: “Can you get the Town Council to buy into this?”

“Everyone on the council is very excited by Mark’s vision,” Fisher replied. “Still, it’s in the very early stages and it’s got a lot of components. Each component needs to be engineered, specced out, and funds secured. That’s always the next step, moving from proposal to execution. But there was a very positive response from the Town Council.”

Fisher did offer a word of caution, though. “Budgeting is going to be an issue down the road,” in particular as municipal property-tax draws are right now expected to fall next year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re kind of walking everything through in a new time,” she said, then quickly added, “But I wouldn’t take that as discouragement.”

Fisher also threw one more potential source of funding onto the table: corporate sponsorships, which have worked well in other communities.


Hopkins once again thanked the many customers who, through a roundup campaign at Hopkins Ace, raised $3,000 for cleanup work at Coffee Creek Park. Some of that work was done by Park Department Administrator Hilary Thomas-Peterson, who along with some volunteers and Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg removed a ton of brush and scrub from around the pond. “So you can actually see the pond now,” he said, “and not worry too much about snagging your fishing hook.”

Park Superintendent Shane Griffin similarly expressed his gratitude to the Hopkins Ace customers for their community-mindedness and public spirit.

Griffin had more thank-yous to make: to Dan Ameling and the Duneland Diamonds for their purchase of the new aluminum bleachers now in place behind home plate at Chesterton Park.


Posted 8/7/2020




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