Survey of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitors Points to Need For More Rangers, More Funding, Better Access

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore visitors are worried about invasive species, pollution, water quality, and inadequate funding for the park. NPS photo.

Results of a survey of visitors to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore could likely be applied to many units of the National Park System: Those who took the survey said there's a need for more rangers, better funding, and improved access.

Conducted by the National Parks Conservation Association as part of its National Park, Regional Treasure program, the survey was available on-line. Nearly 70 percent of the more than 400 respondents voiced concerns for the lakeshore's natural resources, citing invasive species, pollution, and water quality issues. Nearly 16 percent pointed to air and water pollution from the park’s industrial neighbors and other sources. Pollution of beaches by visitor garbage was also mentioned, according to NPCA officials.

Inadequate funding was mentioned by 13 percent of those who took the survey as a major issue facing the lakeshore. Most were concerned with the park’s ability to continue programming, retaining and expanding staff, and general upkeep of the park. NPCA officials said additional challenges voiced included erosion, encroachment by industrial and residential development, parking, and community relations.

There also were concerns expressed over access to the park. Nearly ten percent who addressed this issue voiced concern about limited beach parking during high use summer days; 14 percent mentioned bike accessibility or safety, and; many were disappointed about an inability to transport bikes on the South Shore Line, the NPCA said.

"Visitors also commonly expressed a desire for more information about the dunes, asking for more rangers, ranger-led activities, and interpretive exhibits," the advocacy group said. "A number of respondents wrote in support of living history at the Bailey Homestead and Chellberg Farm."

Those who took the survey also had some ideas on how to improve the lakeshore.

"Many suggested that improved community relations between the park and its numerous neighbors and users would be fruitful. Funding was also a common topic; respondents urged increased funding for the park through congressional action, increased user fees, friends group fund-raising, and other means," NPCA said. "Survey takers emphasized the need for increased awareness of about the park, to be accomplished through education, media, marketing, and outreach. Additional suggestions included increasing park size, ranger presence, and use of volunteers, along with shuttle and other transportation solutions."

NPCA also has put up a page on its website where lakeshore visitors can post their views and impressions of the park. You can find it here.

Comments

I was at the Dunes last weekend and was very impressed by a ranger led tour of Indiana's only bog, quite a long ways from the main dunes area (10-20 miles in fact). It was only open one day a month and if the ranger hadn't been there I would have probably been underwhelmed, not really knowing what I was viewing. However, our ranger, Zach, was full of information and made the visit the most fascinating of our weekend.

The dunes themselves do need more ranger led talks, and the spottiness of what is NPS/state/private land make the area a bit confusing to tour. The industrial areas neighboring the park make for a bit of a shock also. When we reached the top of Mt. Baldy, a large dune with little vegetation, the Nuclear Reactor next door was unsettling. The NPS campground was clean and felt safe, rangers driving by several times to check on things.

My biggest complaint was the "Visitors Center." Nothing much in the way of displays and I learned more about the ecology of the area from the State Visitors Center. Much of the NPS visitors center was taken over by brochures of the state of Indiana. It was more of a tourism promotion center than a place to learn about the dunes themselves. I also question the posters I've seen (but those are probably state funded) calling the dunes, "perhaps the 8th wonder of the world." Not even close, and I wonder if it would even BE part of the NPS system if it wasn't close to the Chicago area and we are sorely lacking in NPS sites here. Much of the dunes looked like the Atlantic seaboard to me.

But, overall, I enjoyed the trip. Every ranger we talked to was enthusiastic and friendly.

Their visitors center is a joint one with local governments. In fact, federal staff are apparently prohibited from putting up exhibits there. There is/was a bill to change this, but I'm not sure what its current status is:

http://chestertontribune.com/Environment/121695%20bill_would_allow_exhibits_at_dor.htm

It is a coal-powered plant, not a nuclear reactor.

Indiana Dunes is not a national park because it is near Chicago (although Stephen Mather, a Chicago businessman, first held hearings on the proposed Sand Dunes National Park in 1916). It is a national park because it has some of the most diverse plant life in the national park system (1400+ species) and includes outstanding remnant resources, including four National Natural Landmarks.

Mentioned above, "When we reached the top of Mt. Baldy, a large dune with little vegetation, the Nuclear Reactor next door was unsettling." It is NOT a Nuclear Reactor, it is a cooling tower for the electrical plant. That is a fact. All that is coming out is steam. The next issue mentioned is the lack of little vegetation. The NPS has planted new marram grass, but park visitors and more specifically beach goers are the ones destroying it.