Chesterton Tribune



First ADA kayak launch opens in Dunes National Park

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A ribbon cutting was held for the first public ADA accessible kayak launch within the Indiana Dunes National Park Saturday.

The project was a joint effort of the National Park Service, Save the Dunes, Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA), Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and Dunes Learning Center and features an ADA accessible ramp and kayak/canoe launch on the East Branch of the Little Calumet River off of Howe Road just south of the Dunes Learning Center.

Executive Director of Save the Dunes Natalie Johnson invited the kids who were present at the event to cut the ribbon, since “we’re doing this for the kids.”

The ribbon cutting was also a celebration of the opening of a 6- to 7-mile stretch of the river, an effort which took more than 10 years of land acquisition by Shirley Heinze Land Trust and more than 4,000 volunteer hours by NWIPA members who install launches and clear log jams from the river on their own time.

Executive Director of Shirley Heinze Land Trust Kristopher Krouse said the vision of a “Little Calumet River corridor” started with the acquisition of 31 acres at Brummitt Road and Indian Boundary Road in Chesterton, and “snowballed from there.” Now that Save the Dunes has helped with funding, the original 31 acres of protected land along the Little Cal has grown to over 400 acres, Krouse said.

According to Krouse, the Little Calumet River corridor vision was Dan Plath’s. Plath is Chief of Resource Management at the National Park and President and Founder of NWIPA. “We don’t give this guy enough credit,” Krouse said, gesturing to Plath. “He’s always out here on his own time to open the river. He’s a workhorse.”

Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Park Paul Labovitz said opening the Little Cal for paddling sports has been a big goal for the Park and thanked the partners involved as everyone works to get the word out that the Dunes are more than just a beach destination. “The beaches are great, but there’s so much more than that,” Labovitz said.

Labovitz noted all eyes are on the Dunes since it gained National Park status, which caused some people to call for the event’s cancellation in light of the Aug. 15 fish kill that was traced back to chemical exceedances from an ArcelorMittal outfall ditch that connects with the river. Labovitz noted that the affected area was miles away and the NPS was taking every precaution and working with ArcelorMittal to understand what happened.

Similarly, Johnson said the groups involved don’t fear these incidents--they jump right into conversations about fixing the problems and improving water quality in the Little Cal.

After the ribbon cutting, more than 100 people took a celebratory paddle down the river from the Keith Richard Walner Nature Preserve on Taylor Street in Chesterton to the new Howe Road launch. Executive Director of Indiana Dunes Tourism Lorelei Weimer joined the two-hour paddle.

Weimer enjoyed the paddle, which for her included seeing a myriad of wildlife. “It’s such a different way of experiencing our area,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but when you get down there on the Little Cal it’s really serene.”

Weimer said she’s amazed by the work done on the Little Cal and excited for what it means for visitors at the Dunes. Weimer said, “You can’t underestimate the work the NWI Paddling Association has done on the Little Cal,” and the generosity of Shirley Heinze for quietly buying up land and granting the public access along the river.

Weimer said the extensive work has opened the door for outfitters to operate guided paddles in the Dunes area. In fact, Valparaiso native Justin Shurr, who guides at Yellowstone and in the Florida Everglades, has already taken advantage of the opportunity--his company Shurr Adventures now offers guided paddles on the Little Cal.

“We’re excited to be seeing all the pieces coming together. There’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes, and its been amazing to watch all these groups work together,” Weimer said. “And this is not just for visitors. This is going to improve and build upon our quality of life for those of us who live here.”



Posted 8.22.2019




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