By Patrick Forrest, Gary Crusader
Stretching from Gary to Michigan City along the shoreline of Lake Michigan sits the Indiana Dunes, one of the country’s national parks and the closest to the Chicagoland area.
Celebrating the 101st anniversary of the National Park Service, Indiana Dunes led a teaching event, to educate the public on the accessibility of one of the gems of the National Park Service.
“We get thousands of people from Chicago,” according to Park Ranger Bruce Rowe. “We have lots of educational programs for kids, but with our location being so close, a lot of people have access as long as they know we’re here.”
“With the National Park Service’s “find your park” initiative we want everyone to find a park that means something to them,” Rowe said. “For me, Indiana Dunes was that park.”
The park is also closer to gaining full status as a named national park instead of its current distinction, national lakeshore.
A proposal to re-name the Indiana Dunes as a national park is backed by all nine of Indiana’s U.S. House members, including Rep. Pete Visclosky of Merrillville. Visclosky believes the “national park” designation will draw more visitors to the area and invigorate the region’s tourism industry.
“I hope that the full House considers this important legislation as soon as possible, so that we can quickly begin to harness this national recognition of the Indiana Dunes and attract new visitors and economic activity to our Region,” Visclosky said.
The park service also announced the opening of kayaking on the Little Calumet River for the first time since the 1980s.
Since 2008, a group of chain-saw-wielding volunteers — not afraid of the cold water, trash, and paperwork they would need to overcome — has been clearing out a river that no one had been able to paddle for three decades.
The logjams were so thick that volunteers spent four days sawing and hauling in one small stretch, thanks to a tornado in 2009 that added to the river’s clutter.
The East Branch of the Little Calumet River had lost the love that locals in and around Chesterton and Porter, Indiana, once felt for it. It lost paddlers who used to follow it all the way to Lake Michigan. It lost the annual effort by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to keep it clear of downed trees.
“No one has looked over this river in terms of recreation,” Rowe said, “as far as the preservation and natural resources we have. But now we have recreational activities on the river which should hopefully bring more people out and expose them to new things.”
Indiana Dunes is one of the state’s most treasured places. Efforts to preserve and protect the area date back to 1899. The dunes were initially recommended to become a national park in 1916, because of their biological diversity and geological features. The effort was set aside because of World War I. The dunes became a state park in 1925 and earned the designation of “national lakeshore” in 1966.