Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Dillon fields questions about funding at Indiana Dunes National Lakshore

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Beach safety, deer management, and wayfinding signage were among the topics discussed on Wednesday when folks came to the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center to meet Superintendent Constantine Dillon of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

It was a casual evening, with no set agenda and few folks in attendance, and if the session had a leit-motif, it would be this: it’s difficult to pursue new programs and initiatives without the funding to do so.

“We have sufficient funds to run the park adequately and appropriately,” Dillon said near the end of the night. “But taking on something new would take new revenue.”

Approximately 90 percent of the National Lakeshore’s budget is spent on staffing, Dillon noted, leaving only 10 percent for fuel, maintenance, and supplies. “We really can’t spend more of our budget than what we’re spending now,” he said. “That’s why we keep reducing the number of people.”

In fact, the National Lakeshore currently employs one-third fewer staff than it did only 10 years ago, Dillon said, with one-third fewer interpreters than only five years ago.

Thus any number of initiatives still in the planning stages—from the implementation of a deer management program, whenever it might be approved by the regional office of the National Park Service (NPS), to the erection of new wayfinding signage—may come to fruition only slowly, after funding becomes available for them. “It’s frustrating,” Dillon said.

He noted that the National Lakeshore lacks two funding mechanisms available to many other national parks: an entrance fee and a dependable stream of donations.

On the one hand, Dillon observed, there simply is no entrance as such to the National Lakeshore, which as a fragment and sprawling park has no place to put a gate and none to collect a fee. A figure something on the order of $100,000 is annually collected in parking fees at West Beach but those funds can’t be used to hire staff in any case. At the moment those funds are being used to upgrade the restroom facility at Lakeview Beach.

On the other hand, the National Lakeshore is the beneficiary of little in the way of donations, compared, say, to Yellowstone National Park, which sometimes receives $1 million every year from its friends.

On the subject of beach safety, in short, it would be prohibitively expensive to hire lifeguards to patrol the National Lakeshore’s beaches, all of which—with the exception of West Beach—are unguarded. “Most national parks don’t have lifeguards at all,” Dillon said.

While on the subject of beach safety, Dillon did remark that in a survey conducted last year 68 percent of visitors polled indicated that the presence or absence of lifeguards at a beach “was not a factor in their decision to swim or not to swim.”

Even so, new signage has been posted at the unguarded beaches, warning visitors of the dangers of rip currents and swimming in Lake Michigan. “You kind of have to make an assessment of what you feel comfortable with in nature,” Dillon said. “We’re trying to give people enough information to make a good decision.”

Another kind of new signage which has been posted in the National Lakeshore specifically informs visitors, in the event of an emergency, not to call 911 but (800) PARK TIP, which will put them in contact with an NPS dispatcher. That signage also specifically informs visitors where they are in the park, to help the dispatcher in directing a response.

“If you think we miss a spot” for the emergency signage, Dillon said, “let us know a good place for a sign.”

The installation of updated wayfinding signage, however—which meets new NPS standards—will have to wait as funding for it becomes available. Dillon suggested that folks might find the cost of such signage surprisingly high: it needs to be reflective and it needs to be robust enough to endure the elements for long periods of time.

Funding, of course, remains an obstacle to the return of the animals to Chellberg Farm, Dillon said in response to a query. “It’s no different from the past. We don’t have the staff to maintain the animals. It’s everything but the animals at Chellberg. We have crops, the garden, demonstration, daily programming there.”

“But maintaining animals is an expensive job requiring expertise,” Dillon said. “Animals can be dangerous. Unless we do it right, it’s irresponsible to do it at all.”

Dillon discussed a couple of other topics on Wednesday in reply to questions from the floor:

•The National Lakeshore is now waiting for the regional NPS office in Omaha to green-light a deer management plan for the park. Dillon said, responding to one man’s amiable interrogation, that the plan does provide as one of the preferred alternatives “lethal removal,” which would be done by NPS employees using firearms.

•Visitors might see quite a few seasonal employees in the National Lakeshore this summer. Hired with funds made available by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, those workers are being used, among other things, to remove invasive species.


Posted 7/30/2010




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