Our community has been blessed with many beautiful parks, with acres of natural resources from lakes to woodlands to neighborhood green spaces. However, challenges such as aging infrastructure, limited funding and the ever-changing needs of the public have kept our park system from reaching its true potential.
In our pursuit of creating safe, inviting and dynamic parks, the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte has been a true champion, and in the process has advanced its own goal of empowering our residents to live healthy and well to become one of Indiana’s top 10 healthiest communities by 2030.
The installation of an outdoor fitness court in Kesling Park, fully funded by the HFL and set to be completed by spring, creates a powerful way to encourage activity and promote wellness. The amenity provides a free bodyweight circuit-training system designed for adults of all ages and fitness levels. However, the fitness court is much more than an outdoor gym – it builds community around the positive message that every individual deserves the right to state-of-the-art facilities to improve their personal health.
As we seek new ways to get our youth moving, an HFL grant will allow us to install a Mighty Fin climbing wall at Stone Lake Beach and PlayCube climbing structure in Fox Park, capitalizing on the popularity and benefits of climbers. Climbing allows children to improve their coordination and motor skills, leading to improvements in fitness levels, spatial and directional awareness as well as balance and agility. The methods used in climbing can help a child’s cognitive development through problem solving.
Another investment in our commitment to healthy children comes with the renovation of Fort La Play Porte, our community-built playground in Kesling Park. With a significant initial pledge from the HFL, we are preserving a treasured asset yet retooling it for a new generation of play. Designed with input from local elementary school students, the new and improved Fort La Play Porte will offer greater safety, accessibility and visibility, while also challenging children with a thrilling obstacle course and zip line. The community-build renovation takes place in June, almost 20 years after the original structure was installed.
Additional HFL grants will allow us to make other improvements in Kesling Park, including indoor batting cages and shade sails over the bleachers at the baseball/softball complex. Scheduled for next year, with some extra fund-raising needed, the addition of indoor batting cages will allow more participants to be active for more weeks and engage more players in perfecting their skills. Installing shade sails over our bleachers will provide much needed relief from the summer sun, especially for adults spending countless hours at the ball fields. The exposure to the sun for hours on end, especially during weekend tournaments, can lead to heat exhaustion and eventually even skin cancer.
The HFL has also partnered in our goal of creating a resurgence in tennis participation in our community in order to deliver better health and wellness for residents. The first phase of the initiative calls for the renovation of the Bill Reed Tennis Complex in Kesling Park – repairing courts worn and cracked and on the verge of presenting a safety risk – and the construction and renovation of courts in Allesee and Rumely parks, respectively. These amenities will also allow us to provide either dedicated or shared-use pickleball courts which will better serve our senior population.
As part of our commitment to safer parks, an HFL grant will allow us to install outdoor AEDs and lightning detectors in our most visited areas of Soldiers Memorial, Fox and Kesling parks and Beechwood Golf Course. Additionally, we will place radar speed signs on two heavily-driven roads within two busy parks – along Waverly Road, which separates the southern shore of Pine Lake from the rest of Soldiers Memorial Park, and along Truesdell Avenue, which separates the northern shore of Clear Lake from the majority of Fox Park.
Looking toward the next few years, plans are being formed to renovate portions of Soldiers Memorial Park. Those plans, paid for through an HFL grant, will help transform our natural resources into enhanced outdoor recreational opportunities such as mountain biking, kayaking and hiking. Once the formal plan is in place, we will seek the needed funding to modernize the park for the next generation.
Perhaps most exciting of all of our HFL collaborations has been our Summer Playground program. The funding provided the past summer allowed us to increase the number of days we provided activities for youth ages 5-12 in five neighborhood parks. As a result, we tripled the number of total registered participants and weekly attendance for the summer. The weekly themed projects included crafts, board and playground games, sports, science experiments, singing and water games for the hot days. The program was further enhanced by arranged visits from the Lil’ F.I.S.H. Club and continued collaborations with the La Porte County Public Library (Mobile Library) and La Porte Community School Corporation (Summer Lunch).
Along with HFL contributions to renovations at Clarke Park and an expansion of the Dennis F. Smith Amphitheater, these projects and programs are transforming our parks into vibrant spaces sure to entice residents of all ages to engage in healthier lifestyles. This investment in our community’s quality of life will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on our city’s health and economic fortunes for many years to come.