Research shows walking benefits both the body and the mind, and the Northwest Indiana region is full of parks, trails and nature preserves that highlight the beauty and diverse landscape of the area. Throughout the summer in Home and Garden, the Times will highlight some of the best places to walk and enjoy the unique topography this region has to offer.
VALPARAISO | Sunset Hill Farm County Park is a go-to place in Porter County for activities that include festivals, camps and fitness programs.
It's also a hub for walkers, who explore the five miles of marked trails and a system that is configured to offer 10K, 5K or 5-mile routes within the park - all winding through a variety of wildlife habitats.
"Sunset Hill Farm has rich bio-diversity," said Ray Joseph, a parks planner for Porter County Parks and Recreation. "Its 237 acres of meadows, prairies, woods, ponds and wetlands provide a great variety of habitat for native plants and wildlife."
The trails have two difficulty ratings, easy and moderate, and give visitors to the park up close encounters with a variety of animals, flora and fauna. On any given visit, walkers may see deer, mice, fox, frogs, fish and ducks, just to name a few.
"The nature preserve - Murray Woods - is home to spruce, pine, oak and sugar maples," he said.
Joseph's favorite trail winds through the park's campgrounds.
"The trail is hilly and very heavily wooded, and I rarely see any other runners," he said.
The property on which the park now sits began as a farm and private residence purchased by Colonel Robert Heffron Murray and his wife, Sue, in 1934.
Within a year of living there, the husband and wife had acquired 1,000 chickens. During its most productive period, the farm produced 400 gallons of milk a day.
After Murray died in 1972, he donated the land to Porter County.
Now, the parks department is exploring ways to update its trail system.
Currently, department staff are in the planning phase of developing and updating the trail map, with the goal of completing a trail system that is both interesting and satisfying to park visitors, Joseph said.
"So far, the trail map update process has consisted of holding two public open houses for review and comment," he said. "At the meetings, park staff created stations that included aerials of the park, the proposed trail map and a questionnaire about trail uses."
Those wanting to provide input in future developments at the park can visit the website, indianadunes.com and click on the "parks and facilities" tab.
At 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, a run club meets at the park. A women's walk club, sponsored by Porter Health, also meets at the same time, Joseph said.
Sunset Hill Farm County Park is located at 775 Meridian Road, Valparaiso.