Here’s the good news: Porter County scores above average in miles of public
beaches, total park acres, and fishing access points compared to four other
comparable communities in the U.S.
Here’s the bad news, probably none of its surprising to residents: Porter
County scores below average in miles of multi-use trails, it’s the only one
of the comparable communities surveyed where residents are charged beach
fees, and while it boasts plenty of sandy shoreline there isn’t much parking
near the beaches.
Those are among the findings of a study conducted on behalf of the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources by the Eppley Institute for Parks & Public
Lands at Indiana University and released in December.
Dubbed the “Public Access Needs Assessment,” the benchmarking study of the
Northern Indiana Coastal Region—comprised of Porter, Lake, and LaPorte
counties—was commissioned by the DNR “to better understand coastal user
needs and perceptions and to what level current public access recreation
facilities in the coastal area are serving the public.”
That study found that—compared to the four benchmark communities, including
Duluth, Minn., and Erie, Pa.—Northwest Indiana ranks “far above average” in
fishing access points and “above the median in total park acres.”
Even so, Porter County has a deficit of 1,334 acres in specifically “local”
public recreation land, defined as having a two-mile service area or less.
It compensates for that deficit, on the other hand, by boasting a surplus of
10,217 acres in “regional” public recreation land—chiefly Indiana Dunes
National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park—defined as being accessible
by an hour’s drive or less.
And though Northwest Indiana is above average in miles of public beaches,
Eppley noted that in none of the four benchmark communities are residents
charged beach fees. Eppley further noted that access to the public beaches
“is often limited by a lack of parking and beach access points,” whereas
beach access in the benchmark communities “is, for the most part, supported
by state or municipal protection and easily accessible points near densely
Meanwhile, Northwest Indiana falls short in miles of hike-and-bike trails
and number of public access launch points for boats.
Softball fields Needed
Some other findings:
•In Chesterton in particular the “most substantial deficiencies in current
amenities were baseball diamonds and multi-use trails. 2016 projections also
indicated that softball diamonds, basketball courts, playgrounds,
multipurpose fields, park shelters, and park restrooms would be required.”
It was further determined, by the Chesterton Park Master Plan, that
Chesterton would require 81.34 additional acres in park land by 2016, Eppley
•A need for recreation areas in the rural sections of Porter County.
•A need for more public access recreation lands to the west of Portage and
north of South Haven.
•“One of the main differences found between the Indiana coastal region and
the benchmark communities is the lack of a thriving, economically stable
main city as a solid foundation for the surrounding region. The Coastal
Indiana region’s comparable city, Gary, is not financially stable and is
experiencing a population decline.”
Among Eppley’s recommendations:
•Beach access in more densely populated areas could be improved by enhancing
existing transportation routes or creating new ones, clearly marking those
routes, and increasing the number of parking areas within a quarter mile of
•Implement and complete existing trail plans.
•Provide more public access points for boaters, both along rivers and
streams for non-motorized craft and in marinas for larger boats.
•“Devise different methods to generate revenue related to beach recreation.
Keep beach access free and accessible to all. Other methods could include
commercial development near the beach and along transportation corridors
leading to beaches; permitting of personal services at popular beach access
points; and/or through programming and more efficient use of existing
facilities along the shoreline.”
•“Capitalize on the unique combination of industry and nature. Create
programs that emphasize the ability of the region to integrate these two
opposing land uses; reframe the enormous steel works facilities as works of
art; develop an industrial tourism market; work with industry to create
natural buffers in strategic areas to create unique view sheds.”