EDITORIAL: Congress must keep pushing for Dunes national park designation

NWI Times

Don't give up.

It's the edict all Region leaders and residents, who value the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, should shout to Congress regarding the quest to obtain full national park status for one of our Region's most treasured assets.

During a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, acting National Park Service Director P. Daniel Smith said the service doesn't support full national park designation for the Dunes.

Congress has the ability to move forward anyway, and it should.

Such a designation already has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and enjoys bipartisan support throughout Congress. It now awaits Senate approval and deserves to receive it.

We've argued several times in recent years that the Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most frequented features of the national park system network, deserves the designation.

Combining attendance figures for the National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, about 3.6 million people visited the facilities in 2017. That puts it just below internationally acclaimed Yellowstone National Park, which saw 4.1 million visitors in the same time period.

The Dunes are home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem and drive more than $73 million in tourism spending to its gateway communities each year, according to the National Park Service's own annual financial reports.

Proponents of the full national park designation, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and Republican Sen. Todd Young, rightly argue it would draw more prestige and visitors to the Region and state.

So why not?

Acting Director Smith argued the national park designation is preferred for units that contain a variety of resources and encompass large land or water areas.

Located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and boasting more than 15,000 acres, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore fits those characteristics in spades.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the nation's newest national park designation — containing a mere fraction of the Indiana feature at only 193 acres.

The Senate should move forward in approving this plan, and the bipartisan delegation of Hoosier congressional leaders should continue leading the charge.