South Shore CVA President Speros Batistatos, left, and Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz introduce the Indiana Dunes National Park exhibit at the Hammond Welcome Center on Thursday. Staff photo by Emily Schnipke
South Shore CVA President Speros Batistatos, left, and Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz introduce the Indiana Dunes National Park exhibit at the Hammond Welcome Center on Thursday. Staff photo by Emily Schnipke
HAMMOND — Fifteen thousand acres, 12 trail stops and 1,100 native plant species make up the Indiana Dunes National Park.

But another very important number was noted in a new exhibit on the park at the Indiana Welcome Center: 61.

The Dunes celebrated its renaming from a national lakeshore Thursday with a new exhibit at the welcome center.

The show — "61: An Exhibit Celebrating the 61st National Park" — features 12 trail stops and several interactive stations for children, including five tons of sand complete with a lifeguard tower. Children can complete activities to become a Junior Ranger.

"There's a million things to do (in the park)," Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz said at the opening reception Thursday. "It's more than a beach. If you live here, you're lucky you can dabble in all of that."

The Indiana Dunes first celebrated its renaming May 29 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the park's Miller Woods. Mike Shymanski, vice president of the Dunes National Park Association, said this has been a goal for the past 100 years.

"It's still a very valuable, unique natural resource," Shymanski said. "It's not as big as it could have been, but it's great."

Shymanski has lived in the Region since the 1960s and he's seen a lot change in the park over the years. He said the only thing that is missing, but still yet to come, is in-park lodging. To "hear the waves and feel the breeze" is something Shymanski said should be accessible to everyone.

"If you don't live on one of the high-end islands, you don't have that experience," Shymanski said. "It would be neat to give, to reestablish the experience for the general public to have those overnight experiences in close proximity to the beach."

Being on the same list as the other national parks in the United States is a big deal, Labovitz said. With 419 National Park Service sites and only 61 called a national park, many Americans have a goal to visit all of the national parks.

"The perception of what the park is has changed globally," Labovitz said. "I got notes from folks in Europe that said, 'Hey congratulations on your park name change.'"

Outdoor activities in the new national park are also highlighted in the exhibit. Camping, hiking, kayaking and cross-country skiing are some of the opportunities visitors can enjoy.

Labovitz said the entire exhibit came together in just a month, with the combined forces of the National Park Service and the South Shore CVA. He said the park's name change is a "congratulations to all of us."

"We're proud of what we have here," Labovitz said.

The exhibit will be displayed through Sept. 21. The Indiana Welcome Center is located at 7770 Corinne Drive in Hammond and is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
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