Chesterton Tribune

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Dillon talks about Porter Beach at meet-and-greet

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It was all about Porter Beach—or mostly all about it—at a meet-and-greet on Wednesday at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, where the superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Constantine Dillon, fielded questions about the park.

“Just a chance to discuss anything of interest to you,” as Dillon told a small gathering of folks.

Of interest to the Porter Beachers in attendance was Porter Beach. One woman who lives there drew Dillon’s attention to the narrowness of the sidewalk leading from the National Shore parking lot to the beach—made all the narrower by dunes grass growing into it—prompting most folks just to walk in the street.

Where “they pay no attention to the cars,” she added.

The only problem, as Dillon noted. The sidewalk and roadway belong to the Town of Porter. “”We’re looking at making some improvements with the town,” he said. “But the Town of Porter owns that. You’re right, it’s not a real good situation but it’s not our situation.”

What about 127th Street, another man asked, which runs parallel to the lakeshore in Porter Beach. “Why don’t they push the sand back so you could park there like years ago?”

“Again,” Dillon said, “that’s the Town of Porter’s.”

Generally, however, two factors have contributed over the years to visitor-access problems to Porter Beach—and to many of the beaches in the National Lakeshore.

First, Dillon said, Porter Beach has no looped roadway to make it easier for motorists to turn around—“They’re all dead-ends”—the result of a “piecemeal” approach to the beach, under which infrastructure has been installed over a long period of time without any unified vision or plan.

“We’ve talked to the town and the town recognizes it,” Dillon said. “The beach is a favorite resource. Somehow we—and when I say we, I mean the collective ‘we’—need to provide good traffic flow because we don’t want residents negatively affected by visitors. We would need to find some way to make a loop. It’s just that the area wasn’t designed that way. We’re looking at these areas to see if we can retrofit them. But that costs money.”

Second, Dillon said, there simply isn’t enough National Lakeshore parking for visitors. “It’s a constant issue but a tough one. When you get a busy hot summer Saturday, there’s not enough parking possible. People will fill it up.”

The solution, however, at least at the National Lakeshore, is not to build large lots. “You don’t want to build giant parking lots that you only need for a few weekends a year. If you do, they’ll be empty 99 percent of the time.”

Dillon did note that the original idea had been to provide shuttle service to the beaches from a remote parking area. “It’s still a good idea,” he said, “but we would have to pay to build a remote lot and operate the service.” And—again—such a service wouldn’t be able to pay for itself if it were only being heavily used a few weekends every year.

Dillon also repeated his frequently made observation that, while national parks are permitted to charge gate fees, the National Lakeshore simply can’t, because there is no entrance gate. “If we had an entrance fee, we probably could pay for a shuttle service.”

So—to return to his original point about parking—the National Lakeshore has opted “to build multiple small lots. Believe it or not,” Dillon said, “we have over 25 lots but they’re all over the place. They give you different places to go as well as disperse the visitation pattern.”

Porter Beach Continued

The National Park Service (NPS) is currently in discussions with the Town of Porter about improvements at Porter Beach, Dillon said, including the construction of a picnic shelter on the site of two houses slated for demolition. The particular goal of that project is to provide beach-goers with a convenient place where they can eat in the shade, to preclude their tramping the dunes grasses and contributing to beach erosion.

Also under consideration: the construction of retaining walls around the parking lot, to hold back the sand. “But you want to do it carefully,” Dillon added. “You don’t want to make the problem worse. For instance, in the winter you need to push the snow off but retaining walls can make that hard to do.”

Park Upkeep

One man drew Dillon’s attention to a couple of issues, the first being clogged gutters at the Chellberg Farm contact station. “We’ll check it out,” Dillon promised. “We’ve got over 100 buildings and not as many employees as we used to have. We’ll get right on it.”

The other issue—or question really. Why were the Chellberg Farm barn closed recently? “The whole story is in the barn,” the man said. “What were the issues?” Dillon said in response that he didn’t know but would find out.

Singing Sands

Another question: whatever happened to the Singing Sands newsletter?

The National Lakeshore still publishes it but only in limited numbers on paper. “Partly it’s the modern world,” Dillon said. “Everything’s on line. Paper is expensive and we don’t reach many people with the newsletter. And mailing it out is prohibitively expensive.”

Chellberg Farm

Someone else wanted to know about the time-table for the completion of a long-term management plan for Chellberg Farm.

Dillon said that the responsibility for that plan falls to Sue Bennett, chief of interpretation, and he was unable to say at what stage that plan is currently at. “We have more to do than we have people and money to do it. I don’t know where she is with that.”

The Old Visitor Center

One woman wanted to know whether the rumor is true that the old Visitor Center on Kemil Road is going to be demolished.

Right now, the U.S. Geological Survey is looking at the feasibility of moving its offices into that building, Dillon said. “They’re still trying to determine if it’s possible.”

Estimated cost of asbestos remediation and ADA compliance: $1 million.

Donations, Volunteers

NPS is always happy to accept monetary donations, Dillon noted, both those for general use and those specifically earmarked for a particular use. “But donations don’t pay for operating costs or salaries, just for projects.”

Dillon did say that a monetary donation would be returned to the contributor were it earmarked for an unacceptable use, say—just for example—a Ferris wheel.

In addition, NPS loves to get volunteers for projects around the park, both individuals and organizations. Call Lynda Lancaster at 395-1682 to volunteer.


Posted 8/11/2011