Michigan drownings reflect badly on our Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Voice of the People
Having lived in Porter Beach in the Indiana Dunes for much of my adult
life, I have come to know the sound of lakefront tragedy by the heart
stopping wail of sirens followed by the streaming arrival of trained
professional rescuers marshalling experience as they maneuver to the beach
hoping for a miracle.
Unmistakable sounds of tragedy filled the air Saturday on what began as a
crystal clear, sparkling, beautiful day at the beach.
As night fell neighbors gathered on the beach in the tradition of a long
observed summer ritual, to salute the sunset over the skyline. Hushed tones
replaced the usual celebratory spirit of another day’s end on the beach. The
outcome had become clear and the wait would be unbearably excruciating.
Together we looked out to the lake at once majestic, mysterious and menacing
pleading helplessly to “please, just give him back”. It is all that we could
offer and hope for young Rafael Palomar’s family. The lake, like the
mountains, gives up its lost only when it is ready.
Sunday we awakened to audio reminiscent of “Apocalypse Now” or the familiar
opening sequence of “Mash,” helicopters descending at daybreak. It is the
most unsettling sound, one I can never forget.
On Tuesday the lake gave up. Rafael Palomar’s family got closure. And now we
hear the myriad of opinion about, blame and prevention for tragedies such as
We hear the cries for common sense to heed the posted warnings. We hear the
collective “gosh darn, gee whiz” lament of the National Park Service shaking
its collective head and absolving itself of responsibility by pointing to
posted rip current warning signs. Never mind that those signs are posted in
April and exchanged in October for alternate signs warning of the winter
hazards of shelf ice. There is no demand for serious notice or attention when
the warning signs blend with the hodgepodge of other signage cluttering the
beach. The signs seem benign, even, simply illustrated with an unimposing
diagram of a rip current.
It is true that government cannot be responsible for protecting the people
from every potential hazard. But the clash of people and danger is magnified
at Porter Beach. There a small slice of National Lakeshore Park beach remains
unguarded just yards from the Indiana Dunes State Park where attentive
lifeguards watch and heed the dangerous conditions which combine to spawn
deadly rip currents. With more than 400 cars full of visitors to the state
park and about 100 cars to the national park there exists a prime formula for
Some folks migrate the short distance to Porter Beach when the State Park
beach is closed for swimming. If they hear the State Park announcements about
rip current dangers on a particular day and choose to enter the unguarded
waters at Porter Beach, it is a tragic shame. But what of the National Park
Service guests who are invited to tragedy by the combination of easy access
to parking at a beautiful beach and little to warn of the dangers in the
incredible natural beauty of those enticing crashing waves?
Conditions Saturday were predictable, known to be dangerous by those familiar
with the beach rhythms, but a complete mystery to the population the NPS
targets to visit its Dunes beaches.
Leaving this beach area unsupervised with weak warning systems places the
blame for tragic outcome squarely at the feet of the National Park Service
and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Park Service gauges its success on a formula which considers in part the
number of visitors drawn to each of its venues. Is it still a calculated
success when the parking lots are full and drowning occurs on their watch
slick with ignorance to accountability? On busy beach days there are rangers
posted in the parking lots, keeping the peace, mostly checking coolers for
contraband alcohol. But there is no one to warn of the dangers at the beach
and in the water.
We must demand better of our National Park. That they continue to wash their
hands of responsibility with inaction is criminal.
My heart aches for the loss of a young boy and the grief his family must
Let us memorialize Rafael Palomar with a call for better control and a safer