Chesterton Tribune

Consensus of NPS Dunes open house: Chellberg is story in need of telling

Back to Front Page






Work has officially begun on a new Comprehensive Interpretive Plan (DIP) for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

And if the input provided by the public at an open house on Saturday is any indication, the single most important story in need of interpretation at the National Lakeshore is that of early 20th-century farming practices in Northwest Indiana.

The open house—held at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center—worked this way:

Early last week a group of stakeholders met over the course of three days, at the invitation of the National Park Service (NPS), to brainstorm the “significances” of the National Lakeshore: those qualities which make the park unique, vital, important. The stakeholders were then asked to distill those significances into “themes,” or the actual stories which NPS interpreters will tell to visitors. The brainstorming was all done prior to the open house and the results printed on posters. At the open house itself the public was invited to comment by submitting their thoughts on Post-It notes stuck to the wall beneath the “significance” or “theme” in question.

There were 10 “significances” and only one appeared especially to interest folks: “The human-altered landscape tells the story of 10,000 years of settlement and utilization, for native peoples, agricultural development, industry, and conservation.”

There were five “themes” and only one of those garnered much attention either: “The cultural resources at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore demonstrate a wide variety/range of land-use strategies over more than 10,000 years.”

Littering the wall space beneath each were Post-Its urging NPS to “bring back the animals” to Chellberg Farm.

Getting Started

The tone of the open house was established early, when Robert Dickinson—following a brief presentation by Acting Chief Interpreter Karen Haner—asked the question evidently everyone wanted the answer to: “Where does Chellberg fit into this?”

“We need to get that back up and running,” Dickinson said. “My family started farming at the turn of the century in Kouts and now my grandchildren, so many kids in Porter County, are never going to understand farming. It’s going to slip through our fingers. The animals are gone, the equipment is rusting away. The longer you wait on this, the more it’s tied up in politics and bureaucracy. Then it’s gone.”

“We hear you,” NPS spokesperson Lynda Lancaster said. “We’re addressing it. But we really want your input on the whole park.”

As Haner noted, however, the future of the facility itself is more a matter for the General Management Plan (GMP), and a new GMP is still “two to three years down the road,” as Assistant Superintendent Gary Traynham said.

“We can’t address Chellberg Farm without addressing other issues,” Traynham added. “The Comprehensive Interpretive Plan is for the entire park. It includes Chellberg.”

Haner next explained that private contractor Interpretive Solutions of Westchester, Pa., will take the input generated by the open house, consider it, and make recommendations on the new CIP at another workshop in May, not yet scheduled. A draft CIP should be completed sometime in the fall and the formal document itself approved by January 2011.

At this point an attendee expressed the concern that the plan would simply be “unveiled” with no public input.

“This is the input session,” Lancaster noted.


and Themes

If one were of a mind to comment on Chellberg Farm, one other person asked, where exactly would the Post-It go?

Chellberg Farm “would at least be a cultural resource,” Haner said.

But cultural resources are only one “significance” among many at the National Lakeshore and only one among several themes.

The 10 proposed significances, as brainstormed by stakeholders:

(1) The National Lakeshore is the birthplace of U.S. ecology, where Henry Cowles described ecological succession for the first time.

(2) It provides unique opportunities for observing how Lake Michigan was created and the Dunes formed.

(3) The soaring Dunes at the National Lakeshore “tower above Lake Michigan creating an extraordinary visual effect.”

(4) The National Lakeshore provides opportunities to understand today’s Lake Michigan as “vital natural resource and place of recreation.”

(5) It is home to a wide variety of ecosystems: dunes, shore, wetland, bog, fen, marsh, woodland, climax forest, prairie, oak savannah, and river.

(6) It is an “ecological crossroads for plant diversity,” with 1,400 different species.

(7) Its “human-altered landscape tells the story of 10,000 years of settlement and utilization, from native peoples, agricultural development, industry, and conservation.”

(8) The park is one of the first “urban initiative parks” and provides the opportunity for “millions of urban dwellers” to enjoy “outdoor activity and scenic beauty a few miles from their homes.”

(9) Its beauty has inspired artists of many kinds.

(10) The park demonstrates the ongoing national struggle between the needs of urbanization, industry, and conservation.

The five proposed themes, which would guide NPS interpreters in telling the stories of the National Lakeshore:

(1) How individual geological processes, weather, and geographical location combined at the National Lakeshore to create species diversity and numerous ecosystems whose “rich ecological relationships nurture and sustain civilization.”

(2) How Henry Cowles began a “legacy of scientific inquiry and education” in the Dunes, and how such “research is increasingly vital, helping us address current threats to our world that include human impact.”

(3) How cultural resources at the park demonstrate a wide variety/range of land-use strategies over 10,000 years, revealing dynamic relationships between humans and environment, revealing also our changing perception of the value of natural environments.

(4) How, located close to one of the country’s largest metro areas, the park provides a natural setting for millions of people to enjoy nature and recreate, “reminding us of the cost and benefits of urbanization and of our need as humans to seek renewal of the mind, body, and soul.”

(5) How the park is “the scene of intensive public interest and passion regarding its preservation for over 100 years, demonstrating the national struggle between the needs of urbanization, industry, and conservation.”


With only about 30 minutes left in the open house on Saturday, the Post-Its stuck to the walls overwhelmingly concerned Chellberg Farm.

One person, commenting on the significance of plant diversity (Significance No. 6), indicated that the diversity goes beyond flora to fauna: “bugs, reptiles, birds.”

But two persons had this to say about the park’s “human-altered landscape (Significance No. 7): “Bring Chellberg back”; and “Our son became an anthropologist because of places like Bailly and Chellberg. Bring back the living history aspect of the park.”

No other comments were made on the 10 significances.

Under Theme No. 1, a Post-It suggested adding the threat of invasive species to any story about species diversity. Under Theme No. 2, a Post-It suggested adding the threat of climate change to those threats which the park’s legacy of scientific inquiry helps us address.

But it was Theme No 3—cultural resources—which attracted six separate Post-It notes, among them these: “Put the animals back”; “Chellberg Farm and Bailly Homestead are stories that need telling”; “We must save our heritage by keeping the farm”; “The Chellberg Farm serves as a time capsule for an agricultural America that no longer exists.”

One other Post-It cited Chellberg Farm, under Theme No. 4, on the “renewal” offered to “millions” of urban dwellers who live in close proximity to the park: “This renewal was provided to millions of urbanites at Chellberg Farm for many years. You have already defeated this theme for urban school children forever.”

Finally, under Theme No. 5—how the park is the “scene of intensive public interest and passion”—a Post-It urged the telling of the park’s foundation spearheaded by Save the Dunes.

That was the extent of the Post-It input, with 30 minutes left in the open house.


Who were the stakeholders who originally brainstormed the significances and themes?

Lancaster provided a list of nearly 50 organizations invited to send reps to the three-day session, including such local groups as Friends of Indiana Dunes, the PCCRVC, Save the Dunes, NICTD, the Westchester Historical Society, the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders, Save the Dunes , U.S. Steel, the Portage Parks Department, and the Dunes Learning Center.

The list of stakeholders was compiled, Lancaster said, based on previous attendance at last year’s series of public workshops, from both long-term and short-term partners of the National Lakeshore, and “people we are trying to reach out to, people who may not be coming to the park and we don’t know why.”

The list of stakeholders is certainly expandable, Lancaster remarked.

On Line

Visit for information on the CIP process.



Posted 3/8/2010