Indiana Dunes National Park deputy superintendent Chris Pergiel surveys a building, part of Bailly Homestead, as he points out areas in the park in need of maintenance on April 2, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)
Indiana Dunes National Park deputy superintendent Chris Pergiel surveys a building, part of Bailly Homestead, as he points out areas in the park in need of maintenance on April 2, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)
But for some peeling paint and a wasp’s nest nestled on a window sill, Bailly Homestead in the Indiana Dunes National Park seems to be holding up against time.

A closer look of the home, a National Historic Landmark built in 1833 by early settler and fur trader Joseph Bailly, reveals rotting windowsills and perhaps more concerning, an obvious lean of the entire structure.

The building, park officials said, has been closed to the public and even park staff for a year and a half because it’s structurally unsafe. The roof supports don’t connect to the walls and the second floor has no load-bearing capacity.

“It’s an amazing building with great history, but we can’t let people in here,” said Chris Pergiel, the park’s deputy superintendent. “This is the crown jewel of our historic resources in the park and to have it and not be able to use it at all is just very frustrating.”

In all, according to park officials and the office of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, the national park has a maintenance backlog of nearly $28 million, part of a deferred maintenance backlog for the National Park Service that totals nearly $11.9 billion.

For the national park here, the total includes Bailly Homestead and four outbuildings, with $7.8 million in required maintenance, and the Goodfellow Lodge at the Dunes Learning Center, built in the early 1940s and last used around 1975, with repair needs at $7.7 million.

The figure does not include needed repairs at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, where erosion caused the loss of walkways and the collapse of a viewing deck. Park officials said they don’t have an estimate of the repairs there yet, and Pergiel added they are trying to get emergency funding to stabilize the facility and assess the damage.

Much of the rest of the work, said Pergiel and Eric Ehn, the park’s chief of facilities, is in an almost innumerable list of smaller projects, like trail maintenance and painting.

“The problem is probably much greater than we’re saying,” Pergiel said. “If we got $28 million, the problem does not go away. It just starts fresh again the next day.”

A federal act that was initiated last summer and died and has been re-introduced this year would potentially provide $1.5 billion for each of five years to tackle the maintenance backlog, Pergiel said, adding while the act has broad bipartisan support the question remains about whether it will pass.

All of the units in the park service would be competing for the funds, making it unlikely the park here would get the $28 million it needs.

Ehn said he and his staff do an assessment of the conditions of park structures, basically anything within park boundaries that’s man-made, on a five-year cycle.

Part of the challenge is a lack of funding over several years to tackle even routine maintenance issues, which over time build up into more critical problems.

“In a way, it’s almost the cause of the list” of deferred maintenance, Ehn said.

Some funds are released for maintenance from the National Park Service’s regional office in Omaha, Neb., for various projects, typically around $1.5 million. Those funds, Ehn said, recently were used for bathroom upgrades at Kemil Beach, Central Avenue Beach, and the Tremont Picnic Area.

The park also will soon bid out repair work for the bathhouse at West Beach in the park service’s repair and rehabilitation program, Ehn said.

The various pots of money available to the park here, as well as its base operation budget of $10 million a year, aren’t enough to tackle all of the maintenance matters at the park, Pergiel and Ehn said.

The most expensive projects, like Bailly Homestead, aren’t necessarily the park’s No. 1 priority, Pergiel said, adding some of them are “all or none deals” because the amount of work they need means they can’t be done in a piecemeal fashion.

A small portion of of Goodfellow Lodge is used for storage for the Dunes Learning Center, where Ehn said some floor stabilization work has taken place, but the clapboard building needs much more, including a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

“Any work in here is basically down to the studs and build it back up,” Pergiel said.

Water damage is visible along the chimney for the fireplace in the wood-paneled main lodge, which features period hanging light fixtures from the 1940s. In the basement, the ruins of two bowling alley lanes sit in disrepair by the former Bailly Trading Post, a snack bar.

The bottoms of structural posts are rotting out and a shallow puddle pools on the floor.

If funding becomes available for the maintenance backlog, the question, Pergiel said, becomes whether to tackle one large project or several smaller ones.

“These are the big, sexy projects,” he said, referring to Bailly Homestead and Goodfellow Lodge, “but they also are the high dollar ones.”

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