Our Opinion: Indiana Dunes deserving of national park designation

South Bend Tribune

There are people who have long believed that the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at the southern tip of Lake Michigan was worthy of a national park designation.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, one of those supporters, last tried it two years ago but left defeated after the Senate declined to vote on a bill.

Now, Visclosky is once again teaming with Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun in his latest effort to get the Indiana Dunes national park status. And though naming the Indiana Dunes a national park may not be the most important item on Congress’ agenda at the moment, it doesn’t make it any less worthy of adoption.

The idea of designating the area a national park was proposed in 1916 by the first director of the National Park Service, according to archives. But it was delayed when, according to a report by the Indianapolis Star, “the nation entered World War I a year later and priorities shifted to the military buildup. Then the Great Depression struck, derailing it further.”

In 1952 more land along the lakeshore was purchased by a Save the Dunes Council to block efforts to exploit the shoreline, and in 1966 a U.S. senator from Illinois helped broker a compromise between preservationists and industrialists, which led to the formation of the Indiana Dunes National Seashore, according to the Star report.

Indiana Dunes already is a popular tourist destination. When attendance figures for both the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park are combined, there were more than 3.5 million visitors in 2017, according to Indiana Dune Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer. Those numbers put the popularity of the area right behind Yellowstone National Park.

Not everyone agrees with the national park designation.

John Copeland Nagle, an environmental law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, wrote in a 2017 column for the Chicago Tribune that naming the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore a national park would ruin the distinction, that it’s not special enough.

We believe it’s beyond time for the national park designation and that Indiana Dunes is worthy. And though the park draws millions of visitors now, it’s possible even more people could be attracted to the area which would also benefit northwest Indiana’s economy.

There are 60 national parks across the country. Designating the Indiana Dunes as one would make it Indiana’s first national park.

Indiana’s congressional delegation should continue pushing for the designation.