Dunelanders in the
know call it a “lost jewel,” an “undiscovered resource.”
That’s because the
nine mile-stretch of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River which
traverses Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is, for the most part,
inaccessible. A hiker or angler would have a hard time finding a place to
park the car, just to be in a position to get to the river. A paddler would
have an even harder time finding a place from which to conveniently put a
ago, the National Park Service (NPS) briefly explored the recreational
opportunities offered by the Little Cal within the boundaries of the
National Lakeshore, with an eye to the preparation of a use management plan
which might have improved accessibility. NPS abandoned that effort, however,
after running into “obstacles,” as Assistant Superintendent Gary Traynham
But the climate is
different now and NPS has begun the management-planning process all over
again, in fact has reached the stage at which it’s seeking public input as
part of an environmental assessment of the possible recreational uses to
which the river might be put.
On Tuesday night,
NPS held a public meeting at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, for
the specific purpose of soliciting and gathering comments.
The consensus of
the 50 or so folks who attended: the East Branch is awfully darn pretty,
offers fabulous fishing and paddling opportunities--hiking and biking ones
as well--but is just way too hard to get to.
Notably absent from
the meeting: any suggestion from the public that recreational uses of the
Little Cal are in any way inappropriate or environmentally harmful; or any
suggestion that paddling, angling, hiking, or biking are in any way
Begin with the
actual “reaches” of the Little Cal’s East Branch which traverse the National
Lakeshore. NPS has divided them into four, three of them contiguous:
* Reach 2, which
includes Chellberg Farm, Bailly Homestead, and Mnoke Prairie to the east and
a slice of Burns Harbor to the west.
* Reach 3, which
includes the bulk of Burns Harbor, the Ameriplex property in Portage, and
* And Reach 4,
which includes the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site.
Reach 1 is known as
the Old Heron Rookery and is located on the far east side of the National
Lakeshore in Pine Township.
Almost no matter
what the proposed recreational use, though--except perhaps for hiking,
overland--long stretches of each reach are, for all practical purposes,
Gene Weibl, a
member of the Burns Harbor Redevelopment Commission who is currently looking
at ways of promoting eco-tourism in town, calls the Little Cal an
“undiscovered resource” of the National Lakeshore. Undiscovered, he told the
Chesterton Tribune, because you’d almost have to be lost yourself to
And people who
do know of its beauty and promise can’t get to it. A case in point:
there is actually an anglers’ public parking lot in Burns Harbor west of
Ind. 149 and south of--and overlooking--the Little Cal, Weibl said. But a
person would be risking life and limb attempting to climb down the steep
bank, even using the ropes which have been secured to trees as hand-holds.
“If you try to get down to the river, there’s a good chance you would die.”
Dan Plath of the
Northwest Indiana Paddling Association looks at access in two ways: kayakers
need places to put in their craft safely and conveniently. But even staging
areas won’t do them much good once, in the river, they hit one of the
numerous log jams and snags blocking their way.
severe log jams that exist, using ecologically responsible techniques, will
improve the river resource for both anglers and paddlers alike,” Plath said.
“Currently the river is being choked with log jams in an ever increasing
number. With the die-off of ash trees along the river as a result of the
emerald ash borer, better management of the river will result in better
water quality through decreased erosion and sedimentation in areas where
severe log jams are negatively impacting the resource.”
Jim, a manger at
Bass Pro Shop in the Ameriplex--which caters to many potential recreational
users of the Little Cal--made much the same point. “We’re heavily into
conservation at Bass Pro,” he said. “Any time you’re talking about better
access and conservation, we’re interested.”
The public had
other suggestions to make as well.
One gentleman urged
NPS to return the Old Heron Rookery reach to its former “sinuosity,”
although Gina Darnell, an urban forester, made the point from the floor that
it would be hard to re-create the Little Cal’s meanders because the water
levels are lower and the banks have been “scoured out.” Darnell also made
note of the fact that the Old Heron Rookery is the only reach of the four
which is actually a regulated drain, suggesting the need for cooperation
between NPS and the Porter County Drainage Board.
meanwhile, urged NPS to create primitive camps for kayakers and other
paddlers accessible only by water.
Two others want to
see safe places made to lower boats into the water in Reach 4, at the
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site.
And in general,
folks agreed on the need for a lot more parking and staging areas, so that
anglers and paddlers can much more easily access the water.
The Little Cal “is
the jewel of the park system that nobody knows is there,” Weibl said. “And I
think we need to find a responsible way of making it accessible.”
Persons can also
provide comments on line at