Chesterton Tribune



Residents say beaches a mess after lockdown

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Overcrowding, rowdy behavior, and excessive littering at the State and National parks and Porter Beach is prompting some locals to take action as Park officials and local police grapple with an apparent influx of visitors from Illinois.

Chicago’s 26-miles of lakefront remain closed to the public per the city park district’s COVID-19 response plan, though a phased reopening of other park facilities has begun.

Valparaiso resident and photographer Amanda Rose spent her Friday morning picking up trash at the Indiana Dunes State Park last week after she was alarmed to see an unusual amount of littering and disrespect for the dunes during a photo session.

The Chesterton Tribune reached out to Rose after she said in a June 4 Facebook post that her session that day was the first time she ever felt unsafe while working on the beach, and many people she saw “treated the beach like a dump.”

Rose reported she and a friend stuffed six large trash bags in a little over an hour of clean-up Friday morning. They started at the State Park’s historic pavilion, then walked down to Porter Beach and back.

“Garbage cans were either overflowing or barely used at all--garbage was just left where they were sitting. The Porter Beach area was completely trashed. Numerous empty cases of beer, bottles strewn all over the sand, and thrown into the dune grass,” Rose said.

Rose said that in her two-hour photo session, no DNR officers were around to police the beachgoers, some of which were young adults chugging beer, smoking marijuana, and playing beer pong. “The total disrespect for the beach was defeating,” she said.

Another photographer, Chesterton resident Stefanie Fisher reported a similar experience in two visits she made last week. Fisher said she spent 35 minutes finding a parking spot on a Tuesday, and more than half the cars in the lot had Illinois license plates.

“It was so incredibly packed there. More packed than I’ve ever seen in it my entire life living in Chesterton and Northwest Indiana,” Fisher said. “It was almost impossible to use the beach because it was so packed with people with tents and canopies.”

Fisher said the behavior and crowds are unlike anything she’s seen in her 17 years of living in Chesterton and frequenting the beaches for both work and fun. “There were literally people there with full beer pong tables playing beer pong. There was a group of people stabbing their beer cans and doing shotguns and screaming, hooting, hollering, and cussing and girls flashing and just being crude,” Fisher said. “Everywhere you looked, there was garbage,” she added.

“I have literally never seen that many people at Porter Beach, and I’ve definitely never seen people just openly drinking alcoholic beverages and playing beer pong. It was a shock. I didn’t even know what to say to my photo session clients,” Fisher said.

Fisher said she may not use Porter Beach again this year after her experience, though it’s one of her favorite spots. “The beach should be somewhere where everybody can go and enjoy it,” she said.

Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz confirmed crowds are out of the ordinary in a phone call with the Tribune.

“We’re having the most interesting summer we’ve had in years, and it’s not even summer yet. We’ve been inundated with crowds,” Labovitz said. “Every day the weather has been nice and it’s a good beach day--doesn’t matter if its Tuesday or Wednesday--if you get a warm day--it’s like a fourth of July weekend.”

Labovitz said tensions are high and people are eager to get out now that the weather has turned and some COVID-19 prevention efforts are being eased. “It’s sort of a perfect storm where people are discovering how amazing Indiana’s beaches are, but a percentage of those people who are not from Indiana are misbehaving,” he added.

Labovitz said neither the National Park Service or the State Park have the resources to be heavy-handed in enforcing beach rules in these crowds, but NPS appreciates help from local, county, and state police. “We’re working with law enforcement to squash it so the Dunes can remain a family friendly destination, which it mostly is,” Labovitz said. “It’s kind of all hands on deck because we’re all interested in maintaining the quality that residents and visitors are used to.”

Labovitz said the Park doesn’t collect month-by-month data on how many out-of-state visitors come in, but he’s hearing anecdotal reports that visitors from Illinois are being ticketed most and causing problems. “Our typical Indiana Dunes clientele and residents take care of the place,” he said.

A call to the State Park office was not returned by deadline today.

Porter Police Chief Jamie Spanier reported at Tuesday’s Porter Town Council meeting that he had four officers working Porter Beach Monday, and it was barely enough. Spanier was also recently approved for extra spending on overtime, mainly for beach and beach parking patrols.

“We’re doing the best we can, and all we can do is try,” Spanier told the Council Tuesday. He also commended the National Park for its efforts and the State Park for collaborating with Porter to combat long-standing parking issues on Ind. 49.

After her June 4 Facebook post garnered positive response from friends and acquaintances, Rose set up a Facebook fundraiser for Save the Dunes that went somewhat viral--it garnered hundreds of comments and over 2,200 shares and has raised over $1,200 as of deadline today. Rose also reported she was invited to meet with Save the Dunes to brainstorm ideas.

Rose advised visitors to leave no trace when leaving the beach. “I walk the beaches almost every day and take a bag with me to pick up what I can on the way back. I advise everyone that visits the parks to do their part, bring a bag, pick it up, and pack it out,” she said.

Rose says she teaches her children to pick up anything within five feet of their blankets on the beach, even if it’s not theirs. “Unfortunately, there will always be people who disrespect our beautiful beaches. We can try to make up for that by doing what we can,” she said. “If we all did our part it would go a long way.”

For those interested, the Crazy Legs Race Series is hosting its next Beach Clean-up on Saturday, June 27 from 8 to 10 a.m. starting at the State Park Pavilion. Participants will be provided trash bags and gloves and are asked to practice social distancing.


Posted 6/11/2020




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