By Kathy Leese
For Civitas Media
SIDNEY — The future of Lockington Dam Park was at the center of a discussion Tuesday afternoon when the Shelby County Commissioners met with the Shelby County Park Board and Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart.
Park Board members met with the Commissioners after Lenhart suggested the best option might be to close the park after years of lewd sexual activity among men in the park led to a two-month sex sting operation that netted nine arrests.
At a news conference after the arrests, both Lenhart and Commissioner Julie Ehemann expressed concern about the fact that the Shelby County Park Board members — Mitzi Clark, Barb Heilers and Cara Kellersmith — had not responded to Ehemann’s calls about the problems at the park. Heilers and Kellersmith denied those claims. Clark did not address the situation.
During Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by some members of Friends of the Park and by community members, Ehemann said, “We all understand we have a problem here … some of the board members admitted they knew there was a problem (with men involved in lewd activity in the park).”
Lenhart said his position was to make sure the board understood how serious the problem is with men using the park as a place to engage in lewd activity. The Sheriff’s Office, said Lenhart, does not have the funding to provide additional patrols to maintain security at the park. The Shelby County Park Board does not have funding for patrols either.
Ehemann said she has received emails from residents about the issue, including one in which a family had taken their children to the park and said, “‘We saw the men walking back into the park. We decided to leave.’”
“As long as we have families going there, the other element is not going to want to be there,” she said.
After a discussion of possible options, the commissioners decided to shut off the parking lot without shutting down the park.
The men who have been going to the park “would have to walk quite a (distance)” to get to the park with the closing of the parking lot, Ehemann said, who added there will be some security at the park, which will include signage and possibly cameras.
The Shelby County Engineer’s office will close the parking lot with a gate.
Restrooms at the park will be torn down and the county will help to remove the materials.
The Lockington Dam, which is currently being refurbished, will reopen in 2014.
Heilers said she is happy with the outcome of the meeting and she said they “came up with some good ideas.”
Heilers said there are plans for hiking and monthly winter activities at the park. The park board will meet Dec. 12 to discuss ideas for winter activities. She said the board would like to hear from local residents who have suggestions. They can call her at 492-0987.
Those who want to visit the park during the winter can do so by parking outside of the gate at the end of the parking lot. “It is open to anybody,” Heilers said.
Ehemann said the decision for whether to keep the park open or not and related decisions are the responsibility of the park board.
“They (park board) run their bills through the (Shelby County) Auditor’s office, but they are their own entity. They have to make (the) decision,” said Ehemann.