Chesterton Tribune

State dedicates Dunes Creek restoration project at State Park

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It’s a task almost seven years in the making but various officials of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Indiana Dunes State Park can finally see the completion of the Dunes Creek daylighting project near the Indiana Dunes Pavilion parking area.

At a dedication ceremony Wednesday, DNR State Parks and Reservoirs Director Dan Bortner said the agency has finished the project’s second and final phase that will restore Dunes Creek to a natural stream after 80 years of being channeled through an 84-inch culvert pipe buried below two separate parking lots.

DNR Director of Engineering Dale Gick said it was his predecessor, former DNR engineer director Tom Hohman, who initiated the restoration effort in November 2005. The DNR proceeded to daylight (a process of exposing a hidden or burred stream to natural light) an 825-foot section of the creek and created a wetland after removing a 150-car overflow parking lot that had fallen into poor condition. Park staff assisted in building an ADA accessible boardwalk and picnic deck.

Work for Phase 1 was funded through the DNR’s Lake Michigan Coastal Program.

Phase 2 started a couple of years later, Gick said, when 16 inches of rain fell over a span of four days in Fall 2008, causing extensive damage to the northeast corner of the pavilion parking lot. DNR officials felt that instead of replacing the parking spaces, they would seize the opportunity to finish restoring the final 700 feet of Dunes Creek where it enters Lake Michigan.

A $1.4 million grant of federal stimulus money administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center was obtained to help cover expenses. A bridge and sidewalk were opened up for pedestrians. Members of the Department of Transportation were given credit for their engineering work.

Other firms who participated in the project include Garriup Construction, of Merrillville, and the Troyer Group architectural firm, of Mishawaka.

The daylighting project, Gick said, “provided additional flood protection, improved water quality, increased fish and wildlife habitat, expanded pedestrian access and created a dramatic aesthetic environment” diversifying the many functions of the park beyond recreation.

“(The park) is not just about swimming. It’s about understanding the natural world,” said Gick.

The project has won awards from the Chicago Wilderness Society and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Award for Environmental Association of Conservation Engineers from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and the Izaak Walton League “Jane Dustin Water Quality Award” among others, Gick said.

Although the parking areas for visitors have been reduced, which results in lower weekend attendance, the park has seen increased revenues due to the increased weekday visitations and operational improvement for a better park experience, said John Davis, DNR Deputy for Local Management.

“Customer service is part of what we do here,” he said.

The park has also decreased its number of campsites from 290 to 140.

A ribbon cutting ceremony followed the presentation. Leading the crowd in the national anthem were members of the Chesterton High School Band.

Algae wheels turn in new

wastewater treatment plant

In their addresses, the speakers dropped a few hints about things to come.

One project “not quite done yet” but up and running is the park’s new wastewater treatment plant which uses an algae wheel system developed by the Indianapolis-based Algae Wheel Inc. Providing further construction was Thieneman Construction, of Merrillville.

The new plant is among the first of ten such facilities constructed in the United States and, according to Dunes State Park Assistant Property Manager Doug Stukey, will use 75 percent less energy than the previous plant. The former, which was removed last winter, existed for 40 years and was costly to operate.

Leading a tour of the new facility, Stukey said the treatment process is similar to septic tank and leach field systems. The system uses roughly 17,000 emitters to drain the water into two fields for further removal of impurities.

When wastewater enters the plant, it first moves through a system of clarifiers and equalizers, where wastes are allowed to settle prior to entering the series of algae wheels.

Each wheel and its components are made of UV stabilized reprocessed plastics and is rotated using a constant air flow, requiring no mechanical system for it to turn, providing the proper environment for algae to grow.

Algae on the wheels use sunlight for photosynthesis. The algae then works with bacteria in symbiotic fashion. Carbon dioxide from the air is taken by the algae and is converted into oxygen which changes the nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater into plant mass. Bacteria then use the oxygen to convert organic material into carbon dioxide for the algae.

The result is treated water ready for reuse. The biomass formed in the process can be used as fertilizer and other things.

Stukey said the plant can handle up to 35,000 gallons of wastewater daily which is typically the amount during the summer months. There is less sunlight in the winter to power the system but Stukey said it would not be a problem since there is significantly less wastewater in the winter, about 5,000 gallons per day.

Park staff wants to add on to the facility and Stukey said he hopes to add two more drain fields for a total of four.

State Park Interpretive Naturalist Brad Bumgardner said the plant is a test model for the algae wheel technology and it may become more commonly seen at other parks or cities and towns.

Stukley said the plants are expensive to set up but save money overall because they use three-fourths less energy.

New bird watch tower

Speakers Wednesday also made mention of a new bird observation tower near the west parking lot were the former water tower used to be.

Bumgarder took a tour group to the site where the tower will be built. Construction officially began on June 1 and a concrete foundation has been formed. Steel work will begin early next week, Bumgardner said, and estimated the project will be finished sometime this fall, complete with a spiral staircase and a handicap accessible boardwalk.

The new tower and wastewater plant both compliment the overall goals of the park, Bumgarder said. “We can produce recreation and still preserve and protect. It’s such a balance to do.”

A second bird watch tower already exists on park property near Trail 10 overlooking the marsh.

In another announcement, Bortner said the DNR began negotiations this week with a party interested in refurbishing the historic Dunes Pavilion into a restaurant and banquet hall.

Posted 6/14/2012