Things are going to get pretty WILD at Sunset Hill County Park if Bob Gregg has anything to say about it. And he does!
“This is our fourth year of presenting ‘Celebration of Wildlife’ out at Sunset Hill and we’ll have all sorts of wildlife for people to see and learn about,” said Gregg, president of The Porter County Wildlife Advisory Board which presents the event. “This is an event that helps the public learn how to better coexist with our native wildlife. We’ll have lectures and demonstrations on bats, skunks, migratory birds and a lot more.”
Those critters along with many others, including squirrels, opossum, snakes, raccoons, deer, muskrats, turtles, and coyotes are indigenous to Northwest Indiana, but the steady encroachment of humans and continued destruction of their natural habitat (fields, woods and prairies) as land gets developed for residential, commercial and industrial use, have made it harder for them to live in harmony.
If deer are coming into your yard and eating from your garden or you have a problem with bats, or have coyotes coming too close for comfort, answers to those growing common problems facing region residents will likely be found by attending Saturday's event.
“We who live in Northwest Indiana have the luxury of being close enough to an urban area to have the benefits of an urban economy, yet we are still close to the more rural agricultural side of things. We are fortunate to still have plenty of nature and wildlife to enjoy,” said Gregg whose family also manages a local wildlife sanctuary.
“The ‘Celebration of Wildlife’ is both entertaining and educational and very kid-friendly,” said Gregg, who shares event coordination duties with local veterinarian Dr. Larry McAfee of McAfee Animal Clinic. Visitors learn about the various species that live among us, the truths, the misconceptions and the shifting balance as their habitats disappear.
Other organizations involved and on hand include the Department of Natural Resources, Duneland Exchange Club, The Portage JROTC, “Reins of Life”, and Settler’s Pond Animal Shelter of Beecher, Ill. The latter group takes in and cares for exotic animals abandoned by their owners, such as monkeys, kangaroos and camels. They will bring out these exotic creatures from far off lands and explain why certain animals as wonderful as they may be, just do not make good pets.
Although on Saturday one may feel they have walked into a “Dr. Doolittle” movie, on Sunday things get less “wild” as the focus turns to domestic pets. The public is invited to bring out their four-legged family members on Sunday to take part in a variety of walks, contests and for a blessing of the pets by Father Roger Bower at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Representatives from various animal rescue groups from the region will be on site Sunday with domestic animals for adoption and to host various educational presentations. Among those will be a Police K9 demonstration and a seminar on training pets by Trail Creek and others.
“We are going to honor a very special young lady,” said Gregg. “We are going to crown Melanie Derwinski, as our ‘Wildlife Princess.’” Melanie is a 10-year-old from Crown Point -- the daughter of Darlene and Jim Derwinski – who raised $500 all on her very own to help a group she heard about in Porter County who mend injured animals before they are returned to the wild.
The Portage JROTC will be volunteering to help park cars and direct visitors to the event as needed. They will also be staffing a shaved ice booth to raise money towards the purchase of a specially-equipped van for Niko Melendez, a 2010 graduate of Portage High School and a three year veteran of the PHS JROTC program who joined the program to do community service. Melendez, now 20, has not let cerebral palsy slow him down nor prevent him from working towards his future. He needs the van for transportation to start his classes this fall at Ivy Tech Community College and the JROTC have stepped up to help one of their own.
Duneland Exchange Club will host a Saturday only “Frog Hunt” on the grounds where plastic frogs will be hidden along the trails of Sunset Hill with some of them having a monetary prize value of up to $500. The cost for participation in the “Frog Hunt” is $5 for children and $10 for adults. The funds benefit the Duneland Exchange Club’s children’s programs.
“Something special this year,” said Gregg. “We have special ‘after hours’ hot air balloon rides from 6-8 p.m. weather permitting. This has to be done in the evening due to wind conditions. The balloon is tethered, but it goes quite high in the sky. A free will donation is asked from those wanting to soar into the wild blue yonder with all funds donated benefiting Wildlife on Saturday and benefiting the Porter County Animal Shelter on Sunday.