The Town of Porter’s Gateway to the Dunes project got its first public
vetting Wednesday before a crowd of 30 persons who heard consultants repeat
a consistent theme: tourists, tourists, tourists.
Hotels, family retreats, business conference centers, wayfinding signage,
aesthetic enhancements, alternate transportation options, traffic
modifications, indoor/outdoor water experiences --- all keyed to luring,
keeping and entertaining visitors who’ll spend their dollars here 12 months
of the year.
So where’s the advantage for local residents?
According to Kerry Keith of consultant Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., the 3
million people who annually visit the state and federal parks can’t be
“Currently we don’t manage what we do with them. What if we managed them
better? If we do, that increases the quality of life for everyone,” Keith
Porter is lead agency for the Gateway project having received an initial
$1.8 million from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for
Phase 1, which includes four studies; an additional $17.2 million RDA
request is pending for additional work including construction of Porter’s
leg of the new Dunes Kankakee Trail.
Comment especially was sought Wednesday one-on-one with consultants
regarding possibilities for development within a 600-acre zone generally
along Indiana 49 between I-94 and U.S. 20. The sub-area extends east and
west of Tremont Road and west to the shuttered Splash Down Dunes water park.
About 140 of the 600 acres are developable, according to Gregg Calpino of
consulting partner JJR.
Guiding principles are driving what will be recommended there, he added,
such as a desire to enhance the gateway with pedestrian-friendly,
environmentally sound infrastructure along Indiana 49 like a roundabout.
Additional considerations are transforming transportation corridors,
possibly by reducing lanes but adding planted medians and landscaped
right-of-way for a more intimate feel, and building new development that
complements, not detracts from, existing businesses and downtowns.
New/upgraded attractions and experiences that would entice visitors to
extend their stay here are also part of Gateway mix.
A.J. Monroe of SEH said despite the Interstate 94 exit onto northbound
Indiana 49 being the main entrance to the Indiana Dunes State Park, the
first intersection motorists encounter --- Oak Hill Road --- looks like
Anytown USA with no hint of the natural beauty that awaits.
“"The gateway needs to be an enhanced part of the park, not sitting on its
fringe,” said Monroe.
The State Park plans to continue its own entrance upgrades from the new
gatehouse south to U.S. 12, reducing Indiana 49’s current four lanes to two
making way for the proposed Dunes Kankakee Trail.
From that point of Indiana 49 south, intensive brainstorming is going on
with multiple stakeholders and partners, advised Monroe, aimed at reaching
consensus on great ideas --- achievable ideas --- that will permanently
affix Duneland on the travel map.
“You do not need to drive to New Buffalo to experience Lake Michigan,”
Monroe explained. “That experience can start in Porter County.”
But one thing must be kept in mind, he cautioned. Gateway solutions are
grounded in the engineering reality that local highways serve local traffic,
too, and commerce still needs to travel the Indiana 49/U.S. 20 corridor.
In order to avoid bottlenecks at the State Park, alternate ways of getting
in and out will be explored also.
Do more with
One assumption is clear, said Monroe. “We’re not building any more parking
lots in the dunes.”
Illinois Prairie Club members had the right idea coming to the Indiana dunes
on South Shore trains decades ago, he noted, and today’s transportation
planners need to find a way back to that philosophy.
Calpino said the Dune Park South Shore train station east of Indiana 49 at
U.S. 12 has a large footprint already that could capitalize on building up,
not out, for more parking, lodging or food services.
A designated location could become a hub for transit-oriented development
where routed buses, bicycle rentals, skis in winter, info on canoe rentals
and adequate signage convey where and how tourists can move about Duneland.
The nearby Calumet Trail, not quite the experience it could be, according to
consultants, is eyed for improvements as negotiations between involved
entities are clearing the last hurdles.
Likewise, trailheads where visitors enter the Calumet and other future
trails need to be welcoming, not hard to find, consultants added, so
visitors can hike/bike into area downtowns and locals can use the trails to
visit the parks.
To date a main draw in the Gateway sub-area has been Splash Down Dunes,
idled this year after 2009’s ownership battles and Porter County Health
The property went up for sheriff’s sale Wednesday, said Matt Reardon of SEH.
He later told the Chesterton Tribune the town couldn’t purchase it
because of the steep minimum asking price but Porter has continued interest
what will happen there. He indicated a water park is not the best use of the
property at that location, but the sub-area planning process can determine
Keith later said the real challenge may be to “change our own mindset. We
are our own worst enemies. People need to see this is real. This is not
But they do have limitations. Keith agreed U.S. 20 through Porter is a
designated heavy-haul truck route which generally discourages pedestrian
interaction. For this reason Gateway planning may necessitate jurisdictional
changes or redesigns, he explained.
Resident Bruce Brackney said he attended last night because, “I wanted to
learn more. I’m directly affected by the plan and I’m a little concerned
trying to figure out how it would affect me. Mostly, I’m interested to know
where the money is coming from to pay for it.”
Porter’s Joe Goysich commented, “I do like the plan. Some things I kind of
question, like the traffic flow of Indiana 49 northbound.” He and wife
Connie reminded Keith that when I-94 temporarily is shut down, U.S. 20 is
the popular detour so it has to maintain its level of service.
Porter Redevelopment Commission president Bruce Snyder welcomed those
assembled and echoed comments he made at the July 1 groundbreaking for the
first Phase 1 Gateway project, $180,000 in stylized enhancements on the new
Indiana 49 bridge over U.S. 20 to be started soon.
Snyder described the overall Gateway plan as an exciting vision for Porter
and a story of cooperation never seen before in this area.