Last August, at a Q/A session hosted by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Superintendent Constan-tine Dillon, the question was asked why there are no
permanent exhibits at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, given the
fact that the National Park Service (NPS) shares the facility with the
Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission (PCCRVC).
Because, Dillon replied, the Visitor Center is not federal property and
federal funds cannot be expended to place exhibits in it. Rather, he said,
space at the Visitor Center is leased from the PCCRVC and for that reason
any exhibits displayed there by NPS must be temporary and portable.
Under a bill, however, authored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, and
currently working its way through Congress, that particular stricture would
be lifted, to the tune of up to $1.5 million.
Specifically, the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center Partnership
Act—which passed the House by voice vote in September—would do three things.
•First, it would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a
memorandum of understanding with the PCCRVC. Among other things, that
memorandum would “identify the overall goals and purpose” of the Visitor
Center, “establish how management and operational duties will be shared,”
and “indicate how various activities will be funded” and “identify who is
responsible for providing site amenities.” Of special importance, the
memorandum would formally give to the Secretary authority to lease space at
the Visitor Center on behalf of the National Park Service.
•Second, it would authorize the Secretary “to plan, design, construct, and
install exhibits” in the Visitor Center, “related to the use and management
of the resources at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, at a cost not to
exceed $1.5 million.”
•Finally, in a minor technical correction, it would authorize—though not
require—the Secretary to accept the donation of lands located outside the
present boundaries of the National Lakeshore if they are contiguous with the
park but separated by a right-of-way like a public road, railroad, or
utility corridor. Right now the Department of Interior cannot accept such
Although Visclosky’s bill would have the effect of formalizing a
relationship which has already existed in practice since 2003—when NPS and
the PCCRVC began the processing of replacing their respective old visitor
centers with a brand-new consolidated one—in fact the proposed memorandum of
understanding would rectify a very recent change, evidently for the worse,
in that relationship.
As PCCRVC Attorney Dave Hollenbeck told the Chesterton Tribune on
Monday, until six months ago the Secretary of the Interior did have
the authority to lease space at the Visitor Center on behalf of NPS. But
that leasing authority was then transferred to the General Services
Administration (GSA), and the bureaucracy involved in negotiating with GSA
is proving onerous. “We’ve been in the process of dealing with the GSA and
all of the paperwork and all of the forms,” Hollenbeck said. “It’s been
complicated and burdensome and there’s been lots of paperwork.”
In fact the text of the bill does not specifically reference leasing
authority, but Visclosky spokesman Jacob Ritvo said that the issue of that
authority “is encompassed in the memorandum of understanding.”
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that discontinuing the
existing lease with the GSA would reduce spending by around $600,000 over
the 2009-18 period because “the new lease would not have to comply with
those terms or other GSA leasing policies.”
The bill passed the House by voice vote on Sept. 8, was subsequently
referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and
hearings were held by the committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks on Nov.
“I am grateful to those in Northwest Indiana, especially the Save the Dunes
Council, and those in Congress who have worked with me over the past few
years in seeking the enactment of this important legislation,” Visclosky
said in a statement released to the Tribune on Tuesday. “I am
encouraged that the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has
indicated that they will consider the measure in the near future. I hope the
Senate acts quickly, so that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can
continue to be improved as a park and to be enhanced as a natural resource
for the people of Northwest Indiana and the entire country.”
Last week National Lakeshore spokesperson Lynda Lancaster told the
Tribune that she was prohibited from discussing pending legislation.
But Dillon released this statement on Sept. 8 after the bill’s passage in
the House. “More than 2 million people visit Indiana Dunes National
Lakeshore each year, most of them from outside Northwest Indiana,” he said.
“The Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center offers these visitors a one-stop
opportunity to plan their visit to the national and state parks and to learn
more about opportunities offered by the surrounding communities. We are
pleased to be part of this partnership.”