In the first of four meet-and-greet sessions this summer hosted by the
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Superintendent Constantine Dillon faced
criticism Wednesday on the issues of road closures, Cowles Bog restoration,
and sign removals, but said he was eager to look into the complaints.
Nearly 20 people showed up at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center where Dillon
informally took questions from the public. The meat of the discussion
revolved around Furnessville Road.
The road is owned by the National Park Service which sought to close the
road in accordance with the 1997 General Management Plan but opted not to
after residents pleaded the road is important for public access at a recent
Porter County Commissioners meeting.
Dillon reminded audience members that control of the road was traded to the
NPS, in an agreement with the county years ago, for land that was to be used
to build the Dune Park South Shore commuter station.
Owners of the Schoolhouse Shop Jim Ruge and Roy Krizek alleged the Lakeshore
cut their business by 30 percent when their sign with an arrow pointing in
the direction of the store at U.S. 12 and Furnessville Rd. was removed by
Dillon said the sign was removed because it had come to the park’s attention
that federal law prohibits commercial signs in a national park. The sign was
removed shortly after the DunesWalk Inn sign was put up in 2010 and Dillon
said the park cannot discriminate on which signs stay and which go. Chief
Ranger Mike Bremer said park staff on average removes three to five
commercial signs a week.
Schoolhouse Shop supporters asked if it was possible to repost the sign,
suggesting the sign might be allowable under a grandfather clause. Dillon
apologized for not being able to fulfill the request and said he had gone
over the issue with the U.S. Attorney’s Office which could not find a law
that would permit signs.
“I’m sorry we cannot make a meeting of the minds,” he said.
Dillon said he wishes the small businesses in the park boundaries could
still exist today but he is obligated by federal legislation to restore and
preserve the land to its original state.
“The National Park belongs to people in Oregon as much as it does to the
people in Chesterton,” he said, “just as the city of Manhattan does not own
the Statue of Liberty.”
Some audience members told Dillon they found it “contradictory” and
“hypocritical” of him to say he supports surrounding businesses while many
of them are seeing adverse effects from park actions. The possible closure
of Furnessville Road would pose more obstacles, Krizek said.
Dillon said the matter of road closures is discussed in the 1997 General
Plan which was put together after four years of public comment and those
records are available to be viewed.
Dillon suggested the Schoolhouse Shop could put signs on U.S. 20, which is
not in park boundaries, or both parties could work together on a strategy to
help customers find the business.
Another group of audience members questioned Dillon about the restoration of
the Cowles Bog, asking why the NPS is removing thousands of trees from the
area, which they said would make the land less attractive to visitors as it
would remove vegetation screening the nearby Burns Harbor steel mill.
Dillon said the trees are invasive and must be removed to restore the
wetland to its original state. He said there is national legislation passed
from the mid-1970s that marks Cowles Bog for preservation. As far as the
scientific reasons behind the effort, Dillon said he did not know what the
intentions are but said the Environmental Assessment is available on the
NPS’s website and at the visitor center.
One audience member asked if the park had an idea on how uprooted trees
would be collected and moved out of the area. Dillon said Congress would
have to appropriate the funds and was not sure how much money they would
give to the project next year.
In another complaint, Krizek and neighbor Trent Pendley said the gun range
near Kemil Road that is used by park law enforcement officers has created a
disturbance for them with the shooting going on for six to seven hours a
day, they claim.
“It sounds like a war zone,” Pendley said, “which is something you should
not have to say about a national park.”
The men also asked if additional safety measures could be applied.
Bremer said the range has a backstop to stop bullets and every official must
keep a record of the type of gun and ammunition they use. He said there are
no plans currently to close the range.
Dillon said this is the first time he has heard anything regarding the gun
range and said he would investigate the matter.
“These are all valuable questions we can look into,” he said.
In a less heated discussion, Dillon said the Lakeshore is still making
progress on the Mount Baldy Dune Protection Plan that was started last
Plans to restore the landmark were made two years ago, he said, and are
awaiting approval from federal agencies to continue the effort to prevent
further dune erosion. The dune has shifted as a result of winds and visitors
trampling across it. One single storm a year ago moved the dune three feet
into the parking lot.
With the lack of foredunes to stabilize Mount Baldy, park staff is hoping to
prevent any more sand from entering the parking lot.
The restoration plan also calls for new trails to be mapped and increased
planting of marram grasses to start stabilizing the sand, Dillon said.
“Without sand on the beach, the Dunes cannot maintain themselves. Soon we
would be called the Indiana ‘Duneless’ National Lakeshore,” Dillon said.
Temporary fencing has been put up to slow dune movement.
Park Association formed
Earlier this week, the new non-profit group Dunes National Park Association
announced its goals to help the Lakeshore receive donations and grants for
preservation projects, one would be the $8 million restoration to the Good
Dillon said the group is independent from the National Parks and could not
speak further on what all their goals are but said he helped get the group
started after individuals came to him asking how they could help the park.
Dillon suggested the individuals work together as a team and said the group
has been active for the past two years.
The association board has 11 members including Dune Acres residents Charles
and Mary Chuman and Beverly Shores resident Donna Kuschel. Other members
include two from Valparaiso and a few from Lake County.