Crusader Staff Report
The Indiana Dunes, in Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood, on Tuesday, May 28, was dedicated as a U.S. National Park during a ribbon cutting ceremony, becoming the first of its kind in Indiana.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was among several community leaders who attended the ceremony to mark the historic occasion.
Against a picturesque backdrop of flowers, lush vegetation and a marsh at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education near the Miller Beach neighborhood, Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz said, “we’re here to celebrate the changing of a name that’s 103 years in the making.”
“When the national park system was first talked about, the Indiana Dunes was one of the first places that was going to enter that system that represents what’s great about America from a natural and cultural perspective.”
The ceremony capped a century-old effort to make the Dunes a national park since 1916, when Step-hen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, began advocating for the creation of the “Sand Dunes National Park,” Bruce Rowe, public information officer for the Indiana Dunes told the Indianapolis Star. Over the years, these efforts faded as World War I got in the way. The dunes became the National Lakeshore in the 1960s, according to Congressman Pete Visclosky, one of the champions of the national park.
Dunes advocate Herbert Read, 92, told ABC 7 that he calls the Indiana Dunes his spiritual home. He said he’s been waiting “forever” to see a national park designation for the over 15,000 acres of secluded trails, diverse plant life and relaxing beaches.
“There’s a lot of history, glacial history,” he said. Conservationists, including Read’s father, recognized that legacy more than a century ago when industry began replacing nature. In 1966, several thousand protected acres became the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and expanded over time.
“That’s part of our story. I think having that natural world interspersed with this man-made world is what makes this place globally significant,” said Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Park.
Now, the Indiana Dunes is receiving that extra recognition as America’s 61st national park and Indiana’s first.
Labovitz said that while the name change won’t impact funding, it’s still significant.
“The reality is the perception of that name really means a lot to a lot of people,” he explained.
For some of the parks’ biggest fans, it’s another must-visit destination for a national park passport stamp, like Yosemite or Yellowstone.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, elected officials hoped that changing face will boost Indiana’s economy.
“Folks are going to be visiting the rest of the region when they stop here and take this all in,” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said.
The achievement was made possible when President Donald Trump in February signed an omnibus spending bill that, among many measures, included changing the name from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park.
The Indiana Dunes is about 15,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands and the titular dunes. Its beaches run along about 15 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline. About 3.6 million people visited the Dunes last year. Combined with the Indiana Dunes State Park, the dunes ranks just below Yellowstone National Park for visitors. It also brings $476 million to Porter County each year.
This story was based on information from various news reports.