Starke County Park Board Unveils Five-Year Plan

Starke County residents got a look at the future of the county’s park facilities Tuesday. Mike Reese with the Troyer Group presented the county’s five-year park plan during Tuesday’s County Park Board meeting.

He said one general goal is simply to raise awareness of the county’s parks. “Most people know of Bass Lake Beach and Campground,” he noted. “A lot of people, we found, did not know of the Starke County Forest, as well as some of the other properties and Yellow River access sites that are even in existence. So developing an awareness, creating a presence on social media because so many people use that now, having a parks Facebook where you can provide updates to people.”

The plan also calls for unifying signage, both to direct people to the county’s parks and also to help them find their way around once they’re there. A programs and activities calendar may be developed, as well.

Several upgrades are also suggested for the individual parks. For the Starke County Forest, the plan recommends improvements to the trails and parking lot, as well as the installation of a picnic pavilion and restrooms. Meanwhile, the North Judson Erie Trail would be taken over by the county, which would work with the Prairie Trails Club to make various upgrades.

The plan also calls for the county to make better use of its Yellow River access sites at Range Road and English Lake. Reese noted that various types of funding are available from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for kayak and canoe launches. Long-range plans call for the improvement of beaches at Koontz Lake.

However, much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around the Bass Lake Beach and Campground. Reese said the first goal is to bring the facility up to code, especially when it comes to ADA compliance. At the same time, the plan also lists several improvements on its longer-range wish list. “Some of the things that came up were improving the curb appeal, adding amenities such as drinking fountains and benches,” he said. “A very important one was improving the beach. The sand is not nearly as nice as it was before, so bringing in more sand and improving the condition of the beach for people to be able to use it. The playgrounds need new equipment.”

One challenge, though, is that the county does not have direct control over the Beach and Campground. Instead, it leases it to Callahan Development, LLC. To what extent Callahan will work with the county to improve the property remains to be seen.

On top of that, Starke County lacks an actual park department or park budget. Reese says that puts a limit on what can be accomplished, “As these properties become improved and there’s more opportunities for the public to use this and the park board’s involvement, actually getting a park department with a staff that would be responsible for maintaining these sites, and they could work to not only operate and manage these sites but work to acquire funding and manage the process of growing the park system.”

Starke County’s five-year park plan must be approved by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for the county to be eligible for DNR grants. The DNR is expected to review a draft of Starke County’s plan this week and provide suggestions. The park board will then consider adopting the final version of the plan in March, before it gets sent back to the DNR in April. If it gets final approval, Starke County will be able to apply for grants later this year.