Chesterton Tribune

Citizens tell NPS official that National Lakeshore hurts business with sign ban

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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 park staff.

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.

Cowles Bog Restoration

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.

Gun Range

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.

Mt. Baldy Restoration Update

In a less heated discussion, Dillon said the Lakeshore is still making progress on the Mount Baldy Dune Protection Plan that was started last spring.

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.

Dunes National 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 Fellow Lodge.

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.





Posted 5/24/2012