Latest pastime: Help plan Lake parks futures

2013-12-31T18:30:00Z 2013-12-31T22:00:18Z Latest pastime: Help plan Lake parks futuresBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
December 31, 2013 6:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County parks officials want to know if patrons would like to play harder, soak up more of the county's history or just quietly stroll through restored fields of prairie flowers.

Those will be some of the choices on which the Lake County Parks Board and recreation staff would like a little public guidance during a public meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Lake County Government Center, 2293 N. Main St., as they mull over a new five-year master plan.

"We ask people to give us input about the long-term," Craig Zandstra, special projects coordinator for the parks department, said Tuesday.

"We have a consultant, Rachel Christensen, who will be at the meeting to present some information from the previous plan and what we are doing on the upcoming plan. We want to know whether people want to see more parks and revenue-generating facilities in the future."

The parks department already boasts more than 5,700 acres of open space and facilities ranging from the Bellaboo's Play and Discovery Center, a 23,000-square-foot romper room for young children in Lake Station, which has received a quarter of a million visitors since it opened in 2009, to the Deep River Water Park in Merrillville, where more than 4 million have gone through the gates since 1995.

They also feature two golf courses and Buckley Homestead, a living history farm, in addition to more traditional parks, such as the Grand Kankakee Marsh, a serpentine section of the Kankakee River, where human visitors can mingle with migratory birds.

The parks department has survived recently proposed cutbacks in services because of declining property taxes, which provide the bulk of the parks' multimillion-dollar budget.

Lake County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said last year that passing a local income tax likely has saved parks from closing, but officials are still discussing how to move forward from there.

A proposal by Robert Nickovich, CEO of the Lake County Parks Department, to build new slides at Deep River Water Park to boost its attendance was delayed by the county council, although some repair work at the water park and Lemon Lake Park in Cedar Lake is going forward, Bilski said.

Zandstra said they are asking the public to fill out a questionnaire, which can be found at the parks website www.lakecountyparks.com/ or at some county park facilities.

It asks the public to rate their favorite park, whether the parks provide a safe environment, provide for visitors with special needs and increase environmental awareness.

It asks whether the county should develop new parks, more fully develop its current parks or leave their open space alone, begin new land acquisition or put that off until later years, raise park-related taxes or user fees or cut expenses.

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