Starke County officials hope that recent upgrades to the County Forest will help attract new visitors. County Park Board members and Community Foundation representatives joined Forester Bruce Wakeland, Commissioner Kathy Norem, and several others Wednesday afternoon, to cut the ribbon on the forest’s upgraded access road.
This summer, the Starke County Highway Department upgraded the old access trail into a gravel road. It features a cul-de-sac for parking, with a native plant garden being developed in the middle.
County Attorney Marty Lucas explained that the bulk of the cost was covered by a grant from the Hardesty Memorial Endowment Fund. “The grant was $15,200, and the funds were also supplemented with additional money from the trust fund for the forest here that Bruce maintains by timber sale, so the property also supported some of it,” Lucas said. “And then I think the commissioners also provided some additional funds for the road installation.”
Starke County Park Board President Roger Chaffins credited Lucas for helping the park board get the grant. “Marty did 90 percent of the work on this on his own, and I’m proud of what he did and proud of what we’ve got here,” Chaffins said. “And it’s going to improve the park use, I hope, for everybody, so everybody knows where it’s at now.”
The forest entrance is located in the area of 10655 East Division Road, although the property extends a mile south to State Road 8. Forester Bruce Wakeland said that having the entrance on the smaller county road has a couple of advantages: the safety when it comes to getting in and out of the property and the proximity of the entrance to the forest’s major features, like the marsh and observation tower. He said the upgrade was a great feature that was really needed, noting that he was surprised at how quickly the original parking lot became overwhelmed.
Northern Indiana Community Foundation Executive Director Jay Albright echoed that sentiment. “This is so welcoming, compared to the way the drive and stuff went through before,” he said. Albright also encouraged anyone who hasn’t hiked through the County Forest to put that on their to-do list.