Sunset Hill Farms Get in on the Day of Caring

A well-known Porter County Park is getting set to celebrate its 80th birthday in 2014.

So Friday, a group of volunteers from Centier Bank and Best Buy spent the day out at Sunset Hill Farm and “Painted the Barns”. The event was part of the Day of Caring event from the United Way of Porter County.

“Centier loves to volunteer for the community,” Lisa Kolan, the team captain for Centier Bank said. “And we chose this project because it seemed like a good project for a lot of us to come outside and enjoy the day and give back to the community.”

Centier’s volunteers came from the different branches in the company and its corporate center. Kolan said Centier has a strong influence in the communities that it serves, participating in various walks, parades and fundraisers.

“Centier gives us the option of taking eight hours out of the year for volunteer time,” Kolan said. “So we are volunteering our time as well as getting paid. It’s great to be out of the work environment and we are seeing the results of what we are doing. We are doing a great job and it is just great to see.”

Sunset Hill Farm was a fully functional farm in 1934 when it was purchased by Colonel Robert Murray and his wife Susan. Originally 80 acres, the property grew to 238 acres.

It became one of Porter County’s well known farms. At one point, the Murrays had over 1,000 chickens on its property and sold eggs and produced 400 gallons of milk a day at its peak. When Colonel Murray died in 1972, the land was donated by Murray’s estate to Porter County.

“We want to do a grand celebration and it is going to be small celebrations leading up to a large celebration at the end,” Porter County Parks and Recreation Department Marketing Director Geri Rose said. “They are painting all the barns and giving them a fresh coat.”

Volunteers arrived at 10 a.m. to begin work on the barns. Paint rollers and paintbrushes along with big cans of red paint were the order of the day as volunteers painted every nook and cranny of the four barns, including the one with the farm’s only pony -- Tickle-Tickle.

The new coats of paint applied to the barns came just as school is getting back in session. Teaching kids about farming and farm life is important to the park department.

“We serve 10,000 kids here as part of our Parks to School program and Schools to Park program,” Rose said. “We have field trips that come out here and our Program Director Nichole Schafer-Murray goes into the schools and educates them in the classroom as well.”

Besides the farm tours, Rose said Sunset Hill has a lot to offer for the entire family.

“We are really starting to branch out in our rental market,” she said. “We have a lot of weddings at our gazebo and we have program center that holds 40 people over here for workshops and work retreats, meetings, baby showers, birthday parties. We are working on our amphitheater out here that slopes up and can hold 5,000 people for music shows. Because of our location, we would like to hold a summer concert series out here and (the facility) is also available for rent for those people that would like to put on their own music shows. We have the campground which is on the other side of the property. We’ve got all kinds of possibilities here.”

Open seven days a week from dawn to dusk, the park has walking trails along with running, wellness and garden programs and they offer hayrides in the fall.

The highlight of the fall season is the Winter Light Festival Nov. 16th.

“It kicks off our big winter lights display,” Rose said. “We’ve got hundreds of huge light displays that you can drive through and see. The 16th is the big festival itself.”

Click here to visit the Porter County of United Way website.

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