Brennan Woods safeguards open space, watershed

PORTAGE | Brennan Woods, the city's latest addition to its parks department, could have been yet another residential subdivision had there not been some quick thinking and a little negotiations by a group interested in preserving open space.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, then a member of the Portage Parks Foundation, recalled the day she strolled through the 130-acre heavily wooded property with friend Richard Brennan.

"As we were going through, I said, 'You don't really want to put a subdivision in here,'" Tallian recalled Friday.

It took awhile, she said, but Brennan, a developer, not only agreed to sell the land, but eventually lowered his asking price by $50,000 when the parks department and foundation came up a little short.

Members of the parks department and foundation, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and other groups gathered Friday at the edge of Brennan Woods to dedicate the property. It is bounded by Brentwood subdivision on the west, the CSX railroad tracks on the north, the old Curry Farm and the Indiana Toll Road on the south and the property owned by the Kitchell family on the east.

Salt Creek flows through the middle of the property. On the west side of the creek, there are a series of lowlands, marshland and a small lake. On the east side of the creek, the land rises up to a highland area with large stands of old trees. The property contains a variety of wildlife, trees and native plants.

After Brennan agreed to sell, said Portage Parks Superintendent Carl Fisher, the department received a $220,000 grant from the Indiana Heritage Trust Fund, $100,000 from the Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Zone program, $5,000 from the parks foundation, $200 from the Shirley Heinze Land Trust and $39,800 from its own budget.

"This has been an unbelievable example of partnership," said Fisher.

"The DNR and Indiana Heritage Trust is very excited about this project. The real heart and soul is the partnerships," said Nick Heinzelman, executive director of the Indiana Heritage Trust program.

Eventually the property will provide passive recreational opportunities to residents, including fishing in Salt Creek and hiking.

It also is a small part in a greater scheme to protect the Lake Michigan watershed. Salt Creek is a tributary of Lake Michigan.

"This is the type of project we always envisioned would happen when the coastal program started. This will provide long-term benefits for this region," said Mike Molnar, program manager of the Lake Michigan Coastal Program.