By Makenna Mays
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is one step closer to being called Indiana Dunes National Park.
“Designating the dunes as a national park would give the area the recognition it deserves, attracting more visitors and helping further grow the economy in northwest Indiana,” U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, said in a statement.
The legislation, which would designate the dunes as a national park, has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and now must pass the Senate before it can go to President Trump and be signed into law. If passed, Indiana could potentially see more visitors and receive a boost in the local economy.
File photo of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in August 2017 after announcing his run for reelection. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore currently sees between 1.6 and 2 million visitors each year, depending on the quality of the beach season. A name change to “national park” would raise their profile and might lead to more visitors, but it is hard to say since there are few similar situations.
“We do believe that we would get somewhat of a spike in attendance here at Indiana Dunes with a name change, but we just can’t predict how much,” said Bruce Rowe, public information officer for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
In a 2016 study for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 1.7 million park visitors spent an estimated $73.8 million in local gateway regions while visiting. This supported a total of 1,000 jobs, $39.4 million in labor income and $100.9 million in economic output in local gateway communities surrounding the dunes.
“If our attendance figures were to increase by 10 percent, the economic impact would increase by a similar percentage,” Rowe said.
As far as accommodating larger crowds, Rowe said the biggest issue will be informing visitors of excess parking access in the West Beach area.
“Over the last two years, we have experimented with a shuttle bus from a South Shore Line trains station to encourage more use of mass transit by local and Chicago visitors,” Rowe said. “This is something that we may look at expanding should visitation increase significantly.”
The bill was authored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and has received bipartisan support from Donnelly and his Republican counterpart, Todd Young, who introduced identical legislation to the bill earlier this year.
“This designation will help preserve one of our state’s most precious natural areas, and provide a boost to local economy,” Young said in a statement. “I am going to continue working with my colleagues to bring this bill across the finish line.”
File photo of U.S. Rep Todd Young by Kiley Lipps, TheStatehouseFile.com
Rowe’s understanding of the legislation is that nothing but the name of the park would change. It would not change the boundary funding or management of resources.
“I should point out that all national park sites, no matter what their name is, place protection of park resources as their top priority,” Rowe said.
If the legislation passes, the dunes would be renamed as the “Indiana Dunes National Park.” This would be the 60th national park in the United States.
Makenna Mays is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.