Erosion taking a toll at Indiana Dunes as beachfronts erode

By Lacey Watt
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—From 2011 to 2018, Indiana’s beaches along Lake Michigan have shrunk to the point where overlooks and trails no longer lead to beaches, but only eroded land and high waters.

That erosion is threatening one of Indiana’s most beautiful resources and biggest tourist attractions as the waters of Lake Michigan eat away at the sandy shoreline.

Lake Michigan beaches are eroding at a rapid pace, members of the Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources were told Wednesday. Photo by LaMonte Richardson, TheStatehouseFile.com

The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources met for more than three hours Wednesday at the Statehouse discussing ways to reduce or reverse the erosion along the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline.

Each year, more than three million people visit the Indiana Dunes National Park, which is ranked right below Yellow Stone National Park in overall number of tourists. They visit communities such as Portage to enjoy swimming, hiking and other activities.

Those visitors contribute more than $111 million to the state, Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, told the committee, which discussed short and long-term solutions as well as funding to prevent the further erosion.

“I would hope that this study committee would address some of the regulatory issues and figure out who is in control,” Pressel said. “We need to draft legislation to figure out who is in charge.”

One short-term solution could be adding sand to the beaches and trails, a process called nourishment, said Ryan Mueller, director of the Division of Water at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. From 2001 to 2018, thousands of tons of sand were added to the beaches.

Mueller showed committee members a photo that compared the Portage lakefront pavilion and river walk in 2013 to the same site in the present. There was plenty of beach in 2013 and very little currently.

In order to develop longer-term solutions, the Army Corps of Engineers would need to study the issue, said Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the national park. That study, which would take two or three years and cost around $1 million, would define problem, the cause and the solution. The next step would be to find funding to implement the recommendations.

Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Park, discusses the erosion of beaches at Indiana Dunes National Park. Photo by LaMonte Richardson, TheStatehouseFile.com

“By doing that study, they will determine exactly what should be done,” Steve Coombs, resident of Ogden Dunes, said. “What is the best alternative long-term solution.”

Portage Mayor John Cannon told the committee that the situation is catastrophic because once his community had 45 yards of beach and today, there is almost nothing.

“It’s unacceptable to us, to the tourism of the state of Indiana that people drive and visit,” Cannon said. “When they get there, there is no beach.”

Save the Dunes was founded in 1952 with the goal of protecting the dunes and the biodiversity that comes with them. Executive Director Natalie Johnson reported that this location is home to not just people, but to more than 1,130 different species of plants, 352 species of birds, 46 species of mammals, 18 species of amphibians, 23 species of reptiles, 71 species of fish, among others.

“I just want to emphasis that biodiversity, the dune ecosystem, that is why we are called the 61stnational park,” Johnson said. “If we don’t address this erosion, we won’t have any dunes to call it the Indiana Dunes.”

Lacey Watt is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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