Chesterton Tribune

Report eyes future of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

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Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore needs to be more accessible to folks who live in Chicago, needs to be embraced as a resource and amenity by folks who live in Northwest Indiana, and needs to come to terms with climate change, if the park is to remain viable in the 21st century.

Those are the conclusions of a report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), in partnership with the Field Museum and the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University.

The report—entitled “National Park, Regional Treasure: The Future of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore”—seeks “to raise awareness and spark a dialogue among park partners to improve the visitor experience at Indiana Dunes and provide recommendations for how to better manage park resources and to expand community and regional support for the national park,” NPCA said in a statement released this morning.

“The long-term health and viability of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore depends upon strong support for park advocates and key decision makers at the national, state, and local level,” NPCA Midwest Regional Director Lynn McClure said. “As we approach the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, and the 50th anniversary of the park, park partnerships will play a key role in providing the volunteers, the funding, and the advocacy to build upon the park’s educational programs and family-fun activities, which are often minimal or no cost to park visitors.”

Signage, Accessibility

Only 35 minutes from Chicago—the nation’s third largest city, with 2.7 million people—the park would do well to “increase its presence in Chicago” by designating “a trail of historic and natural sites that lead to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the report recommends.

But the park also needs to be more accessible to Chicagoans, though not at the expense of its resources. “People are drawn to our nationally significant areas,” said Steve Buchtel, coordinator for Active Transportation Alliance. “Every road widening and every new parking space to accommodate the vast majority of visitors paves over a little more of that they came to see. Finding alternative ways for getting to the park, such as improving bicycle and walking routes from South Shore train stations and allowing bicycles to board the trains, would benefit the park, the visitor’s experience, and people’s lives.”

Climate Change

According to the report, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore “is among the top tier of national parks threatened by climate change.”

“The park, on the shores of Lake Michigan, will suffer from a loss of snow and ice, loss of fish, will experience increased downpours and flooding, and damaged plant and wildlife,” the report states.

NPCA’s recommendation: the development and adoption of a climate action plan, “with the input and cooperation of regional scientists, in order to address the effects of a changing climate on park resources.”

Park Boundaries

Given that the park is scattered across three counties with discontinuous and interrupted boundaries, a study needs to be made of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s property lines with a view to redrawing them, the report recommends.

“The park’s land, water, wildlife, and plants are fragmented by park boundaries, leaving the park’s fragile resources vulnerable to encroaching development and other harmful threats, such as climate change and pollution,” said Laurel Ross, urban conservation director at the Field Museum. “The adjacent (Indiana Dunes State Park), scientists, and resource managers must work together to protect the park against such threats.”

“We recommend that an official boundary study of the park be conducted to redraw park lines that could eliminate some of the disconnected park fragments,” Ross said.

Branding the Park

A further recommendation by NPCA: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore essentially needs to be better branded.

The park ‘must have greater visibility, stronger identity as a national park, and deeper emotional and economic ties within the region,” the report states. “This identity and these ties will help foster the critical and consistent support necessary to protect the park for all Americans.”

Or as the NPCA’s McClure said, “National parks are outdoor classrooms where we can learn about and appreciate wildlife and waterways, places to see our history come alive, family vacation destinations, and are playgrounds that offer unparalleled outdoor recreational opportunities within reach of many of our country’s urban and rural areas. They are economic drivers for surrounding communities.”

Comments

“Now is the time for the next generation of far-thinking stewards to contribute by helping Indiana Dunes become what it was meant to be for the environment and sustainability, for the economy, and for the people of Northwest Indiana and all Americans,” said Stephen Wolter, executive director of the Eppley Institute.

“We appreciate the work of the National Parks Conservation Association and its partners in preparing this report and suggesting improvements at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,” Superintendent Constantine Dillon said. “Many years of work by many people went into creating this park and it is fitting that the public continues to play a role in guiding its future. Public support and involvement are essential for the success of this region’s only national park.”

 

 

Posted 9/26/2011