GUEST COMMENTARY: Park programs, facilities improve despite tight finances

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Park programs, facilities improve despite tight financesBy John Seibert nwitimes.com
February 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The natural beauty and vibrant activities found in the national, state, city and county parks of Northwest Indiana continue to be a distinctive economic engine for our region.

Looking back on 2011 and forward to 2012 is a continuing story of meeting new realities, of funding challenges with what Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas calls being "creatively frugal."

On one hand we must be as efficient as possible, yet on the other we must sustain programs and facilities at a quality that residents and guests have come to expect while meeting new needs with additional properties, programs and facilities. This is done only through unprecedented collaboration, corporate partnerships, grant and volunteer support, and extraordinary dedication, leadership and hard work by citizens and staff who care about their communities and this region's quality of life.

So let's take a brief look at some of the exciting accomplishments that occurred in 2011 and that continue to unfold in 2012.

Trails and pathways are the most popular feature citizens look for as part of a "livable community." Virtually every city and town in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties built additional trails and pathways last year, or have some in the planning stages. Schererville, Crown Point, Porter, Munster Gary, Hammond and Valparaiso completed trail segments in 2011.

Youth sports and programming facilities attract and retain young families. Several communities made significant progress in developing new or upgraded signature facilities for youths in 2011, including Whiting's Standard Diamonds Park at Oil City Stadium, Crown Point's emerging youth sports complex, Lake County's outdoor addition to its popular BellaBoo's Discovery Play Area, the $11.3 million renovation of Lincoln Community Center in Highland, continued improvements to the Michigan City Zoo , and sports field improvements and additions in Dyer, Hammond, Munster, Michigan City and Chesterton. New sports fields are planned for 2012 in Porter County, Valparaiso and Michigan City.

Investing in amenities that draw residents and guests to downtowns or to distinct community gathering areas was accomplished through projects such as Hammond's Wolf Lake Park and Amphitheater, Valparaiso's Central Park Plaza and Porter Health Amphitheater, and Hobart's Lakefront development.

Conservation is a priority mission of all Region park departments. The vision of the Marquette Plan championed by Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority continues to unfold with the Gary Marquette Park Pavilion project, the Portage Lakefront Park and the Porter Dunes Gateway Project.

Projects that preserve and enhance the environment are occurring at Indiana Dunes State Park with the Dune Creek watershed project, Lake County's first phase of a 228-acre wetland restoration, LaPorte County's Great Lakes ecosystem restoration project at the headwaters of the Little Calumet River, and Porter County's Brinka-Cross Gardens restoration.

These are a list of just a few of the extraordinary projects that have happened in 2011 and will continue in 2012. In addition, thousands of recreation programs and special events are produced and hosted by your parks staffs and the millions of residents and guests that are served each year by them.

In 2012, elected officials, community leaders, parks professionals, volunteers, and public and private partners will need to work together to ensure that our extraordinary quality of life will be sustained and made better for future generations.

John Seibert is Valparaiso's director of parks and recreation. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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