CHESTERTON | The Porter County Parks Foundation would like to provide accommodations for another kind of visitor to the area: migratory birds and wildlife.
Foundation Member Tim Cole outlined the proposal for the group at its recent meeting calling for expanding a 19-acre site the foundation already owns with three other parcels totaling 34 acres to form a migratory bird and wildlife sanctuary at the southern edge of Chesterton on the west side of Meridian Road.
"It's a wild dream I've had for about 10 years," Cole said.
He said the 19 acres is swamp that is within walking distance of the high school and intermediate school, which, if it were made a sanctuary, would make it a good educational facility. Cole described the whole area encompassed by the 53 acres as being underwater 200 years ago.
As Chesterton has slowly encroached on it, the properties have resisted attempts to drain and develop them, and for many years they were used for illegal dumping by residents. A "For sale" sign on Meridian touts a 20-acre plot on the east side of the foundation property for commercial use.
"During one dry summer, excessive drainage allowed the peat buildup to catch fire and much of this entire area smoldered and smoked for weeks until the land surface reached levels that were still wet," he said.
"Nearly all vegetation, trees, bushes, typical swamp growth were destroyed at that time allowing invasives to take over and burned-out pits to develop across these lands. This was actually fortunate for the health of the property. Nobody wanted it, and nobody could walk in it so nobody abused it any more."
To convert its property into a sanctuary and educational area, a foundation committee proposed damming a drainage ditch that runs from south of the intermediate school through the property to the north border. A berm also would be built to protect residential areas to the west.
Damming the drainage ditch would raise the water level on the property six to 12 inches, and the dirt for the berm would come from creating lagoons where the water would be deeper. Plants suitable for the wetlands would be planted and a boardwalk or other path built to a center observation deck for visitors.
If the foundation obtains the 20-acre parcel to the east, a pathway could be added through both sites that would connect to existing pathways, and the site would provide up to an acre for parking. The foundation property has no good place for parking.
The 20 acres reportedly is available, but the asking price is $75,000 while it was appraised for $50,000. Ten acres on the south border of the foundation property also is available, and four acres next to a home on Meridian adjoining all three parcels also could be obtained.
"We have contacted a number of people for proposal support and hope to go forward with acquisition and funding from various groups and individuals," Cole said in the committee's report.
"The tourism dollars are virtually assured for the community, and the addition of this property, when developed, will enhance the holdings of the Porter County Parks Department, or we could hold the property for another organization, possibly selling it or collaboratively maintaining it."
The committee said the options are that it could be made available for the public good in perpetuity or remain "unused, undeveloped the eyesore it has become and the liability it presents to the community at large."
The foundation agreed to study the proposal.