La PORTE — Major changes may soon be coming to Soldiers Memorial Park.

The La Porte Park and Recreation Department recently approved a master plan that will focus on phased improvements to the areas surrounding Cummings Lodge and Lions Field.

The Parks Department has adopted a plan made by Planned Environmental Associates Inc. that divides Soldiers Memorial Park into two sub-areas.

"The goal of the master plan was to envision improvements that enhance the park features already present," said Park Superintendent Mark Schreiber. "We want to encourage more and longer visits to the park, so improving infrastructure such as restrooms, parking and lighting were essential elements. While we are intrigued with some potential new amenities, we recognize that the park is already an amazing community asset and we only want to enhance that."

Jon Ruble, Principal Landscape Architect from Planned Environmental Associates, Inc. explained, “for the whole master plan we focused on two areas, north by the beach and Cummings Lodge, the other being south by Lions Field. Each one of those sub areas had two options, [the first being] kind of just fixing, things that are already existing back there and keeping similar programs going."

Ruble went on, “the second option took a more aggressive view, like relocating the baseball field to another park and replacing it with a BMX pump track and adding additional picnic lawns. It gives the Park Board options to evaluate potential moves for the future.”

The Park Board has not yet chosen to implement ideas from the second option of the master plan.

“As each phase is considered, the Park Board will use the options presented to guide its decisions,” Schreiber said.

Additionally, the Traffic Commission has made a recommendation to transition Lake Shore Drive to a one-way street going southbound from Grangemouth Drive to Craven Drive.

"This change would allow the road to be reconstructed with a multi-use trail along the shoreline," Schreiber said. "It will also allow us to renovate the shoreline and install overlooks and fighting piers along that stretch of the park.”

According to the plan, the proposed trail will be a 8 1/2’ wide asphalt side path and stretch for approximately 0.8 miles along Lake Shore Drive. Along the path will be places for resting, fishing and wildlife observation into Stone Lake.

The recommendation to make the changes to Lake Shore Drive will have to be approved by the City Council. It is expected to be introduced at the Oct. 7 meeting of the Common Council that will take place at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

These improvements, if implemented, carry a multi-million dollar price tag.

"The park improvements will be done in phases, with prioritized needs and available funding determining the order and timing of projects. We hope to get most of the work done through federal, state and private grants, using a variety of local funding sources as matching funds. The master plan gives us a road map to meeting our goals. However, we know these improvements will not happen overnight," Schreiber said.

Upon passage from City Council, the Lake Shore Drive Trail will likely be funded by the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte (HFL). The project is expected to require a $888,000 donation from the HFL.

The cost of reconstructing Lake Shore Drive into a one-way street will fall on the city, and is expected to need $570,000 in funding.

As of now, the board is focusing on implementing a multi-use trail from the beach house to Craven Pond, as well as installing an ADA kayak launch ($30,000) and rental kayak lockers ($20,000). The kayak projects will likely be funded by donor organizations. Construction for these additions could begin as soon as spring 2020.

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