Legislation enacted Friday by President Donald Trump officially re-designates the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as America's 61st national park. Provided image
Legislation enacted Friday by President Donald Trump officially re-designates the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as America's 61st national park. Provided image
CHESTERTON — The 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that runs for 15 miles along Lake Michigan on Friday was re-designated by President Donald Trump as America's 61st national park — and the first national park in Indiana.

House Joint Resolution 31, which provides $1.4 billion for Mexican border fencing demanded by Trump, also included a provision long sought by Region leaders renaming the national lakeshore as a national park.

"I am heartened that because of the support of our U.S. senators, the entire Indiana congressional delegation, and numerous Northwest Indiana organizations, we have successfully titled the first national park in our state," said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, who led the Indiana Dunes National Park effort.

"This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our Region's environmental wonders."

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, said she is "thrilled" the Hoosier State now has a national park and that it is the Indiana Dunes.

"The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has long been a treasured place for Hoosiers to relax, explore, and enjoy all that nature has to offer, as well as a strong driver of our local economy," Walorski said.

"The Indiana Dunes National Park will draw even more visitors from across the country, strengthening Indiana's economy and boosting the outdoor recreation industry that is so vital to our region."

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., credited Visclosky's "tireless advocacy" for making the change from a national lakeshore to a national park possible.

"I commend Rep. Visclosky for his perseverance on this important Hoosier priority," Young said. "This designation certifies what we Hoosiers have known all along — Indiana Dunes is not just a state treasure, but a national treasure as well."

"I look forward to visiting Indiana's first national park very soon."

The legislation signed by the president also renames the 1.6-mile Miller Woods trail in the new national park as the Paul H. Douglas Trail, in honor of Illinois U.S. senator who helped establish the national lakeshore in 1966.

The change to a national park is not expected to result in any immediate programming or facilities changes at the former national lakeshore, other than a lot of new signage.

The National Park Service will continue operating the park. Indiana Dunes National Park also will remain separate from Indiana Dunes State Park, which still is state-owned and under the auspices of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Between the new national park and Indiana Dunes State Park more than 3.6 million people visited the Dunes in 2018, according to Indiana Dunes Tourism, the official marketing, planning and development organization for the Indiana Dunes area in Porter County.

Tourism officials expect the national park designation will help draw even more visitors to Northwest Indiana to see the park's woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands and, of course, the sand dunes, which reach heights up to 192 feet.

"The Indiana Dunes National Park is Indiana's first national park, and will be a significant boon to Indiana's economic development, specifically tourism, which already pumps $476 million into our economy annually," said Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism.

"From a marketing perspective, the national park status will put our destination into an elite group of 61 national parks and will significantly increase our already successful marketing initiatives for our region."

The first director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, recommended in 1916 that the Dunes become a national park due to its unique biological diversity and geological features.

That initial effort stalled due to World War I. Local conservation work then led to establishing the Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925 and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966.

In 2017, Visclosky won unanimous approval from the U.S. House to re-designate the national lakeshore as a national park.

That effort, however, faltered last year in the Senate after the Trump administration announced that it opposed the change because it wanted to reserve the term "national park" for units that contain a variety of resources and encompass large land or water areas.

But the Region's congressman would not give up. Visclosky said last month when the new Congress began that he would seek any opportunity to advance his national park proposal.

He succeeded by getting it inserted in "must pass" spending legislation that Trump had to sign or risk a second partial shutdown of the federal government.

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