Officials with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes Tourism said they’re lucky the partial federal government shutdown happened in the winter and not during the height of the tourist season.
They also note the lakeshore has not seen the misuse and abuse reported at Yosemite and other National Park Service locations.
“We are not having problems with trash and human waste yet. The longer this goes, the more likely that is to be problematic,” said Paul Labovitz, park superintendent.
While the trails and parking lots are open, bathrooms and buildings are locked, and programs are canceled. Park rangers are still on duty. Trash isn’t being picked up and has been collecting since the shutdown began Dec. 22.
Labovitz encourages park visitors to take their trash with them when they leave, assuming responsibility now to clean up for themselves and others.
The campgrounds closed in early November for the season.
“I’m very proud of the people visiting the national lakeshore at this point, but there is a tipping point, and it’s tough,” he said. “I like to think visitors here are careful and caring, but I’ve heard some of the bigger parks are thinking of closing up.”
Both he and Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, said it also helps that the lakeshore draws fewer visitors in the winter than it does in the summer.
“I would like to think this time of year most of our visitors are local folks and they’re not going to trash their back yard,” Labovitz said.
Weimer said visitors can enjoy the lakeshore beach and trails, as well as amenities and programs at Indiana Dunes State Park which is run by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and remains fully open.
The biggest challenge is staffing the visitor center on Indiana 49, which is operated jointly by Porter County and the National Park Service. Some programing has been canceled, but the exhibit room is open in the county-owned building. No park rangers are helping staff the front desk.
“Right now, our staff is handling the flow of visitors because it’s the slow season,” Weimer said.
Typically, a volunteer with the national lakeshore and a handful of paid staff would handle questions at the visitor center during the off-season, she said. For now, tourism staff is pitching in to assist visitors, with some volunteers coming in on weekends when crowds are bigger.
“We’ve got everything beautifully covered now because it’s not peak season,” Weimer said.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, said in a statement that both sides need to find common ground.
“As the 116th Congress begins, my foremost priority is to finish the business of the 115th Congress and reopen all of the currently closed federal agencies,” he said. “It is unacceptable that the political leadership does not exist to find common ground so that basic government operations can fully and effectively be provided for the benefit of all Americans. I will continue to work for a reasoned resolution of the current impasse so that we can get about the work of governing our country.”