The Starke County Park Board is moving ahead with the process of finding a consultant to create a five-year plan for the county’s park facilities. A comprehensive plan is required before the county may receive grant funding from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
During Tuesday’s park board meeting, Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Edwin Buswell gave board members a list of options for moving ahead with the planning process. One that was previously discussed was getting a grant to pay for the plan. Buswell said Tuesday that the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs offers grants of up to $15,000 for that purpose. But it would cost Starke County an estimated $6,000 or more to hire a consultant to conduct a county-wide income survey to prove Starke County’s eligibility for that grant.
Buswell also told the park board that KIRPC could create the park plan itself for a cost of $10,000. “You wouldn’t get the same level of detail in what we do as what the consultants do,” Buswell said. “You wouldn’t get engineering designs. You wouldn’t get detailed cost estimates if we were to do it. Basically, we’d be meeting the requirements of DNR. We’d be establishing goals and objectives.” Alternatively, KIRPC could do some of the preliminary work, while leaving it up to the park board to write the actual plan.
In an apparent effort to move the process along, the Starke County Commissioners agreed earlier this month to appropriate up to $15,000 to help create the plan. With that money available, the park board chose to have KIRPC advertise for proposals from outside planning firms. Buswell also agreed to contact of few of them directly, along with Purdue and Ball State Universities. Starke County is interested in having students create the plan as part of their coursework, in an effort to save on costs. Board members would then have the opportunity to review the proposals and interview prospective consultants. Buswell said that once a planner is chosen, it will typically conduct a survey, as well as a series of meetings with various groups that have a special interest in the parks, as well as the general public.
One issue to be addressed in the planning process is how much oversight the park board should have over various open areas and recreational facilities in the county. Starke County Attorney Marty Lucas has been trying to assemble a list of potential county park facilities. Additionally, Starke County Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler presented his own list of properties the County Highway Department is asked to maintain. “I get, every day, asked to maintain public property that’s not roadways,” Ritzler said. “For example, Koontz Lake has a beach too and they have more people who live there, and I was just asked to bring 50 tons of sand there today. I think the park board could help administer that.”
The hope is to have the five-year park plan completed in time to make the county eligible for 2017 DNR grants. That means a draft has to be created and submitted to the DNR by January 15.