Chesterton Tribune

Citizens tell opposition to NPS plan to close roads in National Lakeshore

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

People’s views can change over 15 years.

This was the case during Tuesday’s Porter County Commissioners meeting where the board opened a public hearing on the issue of closing certain public roads within the boundaries of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Porter County.

About 20 people spoke out against the plan to close Tremont Road, Furnessville Road, and portions of Hadenfeldt Road (CR 150 East) and Veden Road (CR 200 East). Forty more sat in on the arguments inside a packed Commissioners’ chambers.

As residents openly accused the National Lakeshore of “bullyism” by forcing residents to find alternate travel routes to get to the park and businesses, the park’s Superintendent Constantine Dillon said the roads were identified in the 1997 General Management Plan Amendment for the Lakeshore that at the time was open to public comment. Taking from the comments given by residents, the 1997 plan called for the closure of the roadways once the areas had become entirely vacated.

Dillon said the last residents on the roads moved out in the fall of 2010 giving the park the authority to fulfill its promise of closing the roads, converting them into trails and restoring natural areas such as wetlands. The National Park Service sent the road closure requests to the county commissioners in January 2011.

While residents in 1997 may have pushed for the road closures, no one in the present day fully supported the suggestion, including Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who asked the public to weigh in on the issue.

Before Dillon spoke, local park advocate Herb Read, who has lived most of his life within areas that are now national park property, started the public hearing saying he frequently utilizes the roads and trails. He said closing the roads would however hinder access for those with limited mobility, such as the elderly. Resident access would also be impeded to the Schoolhouse Shop, the South Shore Railroad station, the Discovery Charter School and even the dunes themselves, Read said.

Read pushed for Tremont, Hawleywood, Veden and Furnessville roads to remain open, along with Pottawatomie Trail.

“The roads should be kept open until the public can agree to it and congress can appropriate the right amount of funds,” Read said, netting applause from the audience.

While the National Park Service said illegal activity and dumping have been major problems the area, Read dismissed the claim saying “every park has its management problems.”

Resident Barry Perlin, who said he lives on Veden Road, opposed the plan since it would be “land-locking” 100 residents and would inconvenience those who use the area for biking. He said if the park really wanted to enhance the park for visitors, it should consider putting in more parking areas for people wanting to enjoy the property.

Lyle Munn of Porter Beach said the area is a “very fragile neighborhood” and called the Lakeshore cavalier for moving the plan along without first performing a flow study on the traffic that moves through the area.

One resident claimed he would have to travel an extra five miles a day just to get to or leave his house.

Safety First

Co-owner of the Schoolhouse Shop located on Furnessville Road, Roy Krizek said businesses like his will be affected and added his concern for emergency vehicles that need to get thorough the area. Krizek said he has witnessed “horrific” car crashes on U.S. 20 and accidents would likely escalate during the tourist seasons.

Safety was also on the mind of a representative from the Town of Porter. Public Works Director Brenda Brueckheimer said the NPS never approached the town to discuss points of safety which made her “deadly against the plan.” She added if park officials were concerned with keeping the areas cleared of trash, they would be welcome to talk with the town for help with cleanup.

Other residents like Paul Tharp of Chesterton broached the issue of how the road closures would affect travel to the South Shore line’s Dune Park station. The park’s plan proposed using Ind. 49 as alternate access between U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 but residents would have to cross many hazardous intersections in doing so.

“We will just have more bloodshed,” said Tharp.

With the potential closure of Tremont Rd. north of Canonie Road, residents would only be able to access the Discovery Charter School by U.S. 20. Discovery principal Karen Poplawski said the move would cause traffic congestion at the intersection.

Poplawski thanked the park for letting the school have access to the trails as part of Discovery’s educational opportunities but said the plan would land-lock the 400 students attending the charter school.

Historic preservation for

Read House, cemetery

Several speakers stressed the historic significance the roads held for the area of Furnessville and expressed their wish to see these structures preserved.

Don Payne, who lives on Furnleigh Lane, said there are 15 Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery located on Furnessville Road.

Evans said one of the nearly 70 e-mails he’s received over the past week in regard to the NPS request came from California resident John McLellan Reed, the oldest living great-grandson of Furnessville’s founder Erwin L. Furness. Evans read Reed’s e-mail which expressed his plea to keep the area of Furnessville road preserved. His parents and sister are buried at Furnessville cemetery.

“It is inconceivable to me that Porter County would stand by, while an agency of the federal government moves further into the domination of such as historic area, to be subject to such creeping control,” Reed said.

Krizek suggested the historic Read House on Tremont Road also be preserved in some fashion and given access to, possibly as a volunteer center where the NPS can meet and organize.

Chesterton resident Marjorie Crawford offered her opinion that efforts should be made to preserve the historic Furnessville cottage that was once inhabited by naturalist Edwin Way Teale.

Compromise is coming

Aside from the overwhelming protest, executive director of Save the Dunes Nicole Barker said there always is some tension between parks and their communities and hopes more discussion will ensue on the issue resulting in a “win-win” situation. Barker said roads tend to fragment natural areas which is not very accommodating to the “critters and plants” native to the area.

She called for further study to find out what’s best for the area.

Naureen Rana, programming director of the National Parks Conservation Association in Chicago, said her organization works with the NPS to find out what’s best for national parks. She echoed Barker’s comments that the county and the Lakeshore can adjust the plan together.

“I think this is going to come down to a compromise,” she said.

Noting a change in public attitude and the concerns for safety, Dillon said he would be willing to work on a new plan if that is what the public desires.

“We aren’t committed to closing the roads one way or another,” he said.

Evans, who said he was in favor of closing some of the roads but not all, asked to speak with Dillon further and said the commissioners will announce their decisions at their May 1 meeting.

The Lakeshore has successfully closed a number of roads since 2007 such as South State Park Road, Teale Road, Tremont Road north of U.S. 12, and Lake Park Avenue.

Reconsideration possible for Furnessville Road?

After hearing the pleas to keep Furnessville Road open, Dillon said it is important to remember how the NPS acquired the road. The county traded Furnessville Road to the NPS in 1983 in exchange for the land where the Dune Park train station was built.

The remaining reservations on Furnessville Road are now vacated, Dillon said, and the park has the right to convert the road into a trail for walking, biking and horseback riding in accordance with the general management plan.

The NPS slated the road for closure this spring but Dillon said he will reconsider and discuss safety matters with the county.

Other speakers on Tuesday in opposition to the closures included Heather Ennis, executive director of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Dunes Promotions Director Ken Kosky, Dunes blogger Trent Pendley, DunesWalk Inn owner Ari Killian and Porter Police Chief Jamie Spanier.

 

Posted 4/4/2012