Mt. Baldy now a national park
MICHIGAN CITY — Michigan City is now home to a National Park.
Or at least a partial home.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana; U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R; and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, announced that the 61st National Park in the United States and the first in the state is the Indiana Dunes National Park, which stretches from Gary to Michigan City.
According to the lawmakers, it all came about when the Fiscal Year 2019 Omnibus Appropriations legislation was signed into law Friday. It contained a provision that retitles the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as Indiana Dunes National Park.
The park has more than 15,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands, beaches and shoreline.
Michigan City is home to Mount Baldy, which is part of the newly named national park; and the Dunes’ Great Marsh reaches the city’s western edge. Michigan City is also an access point to the park’s Heron Rookery and is the closest city to Pinhook Bog, which is located in La Porte County.
“It’s extremely important to Michigan City and our region that (Dunes National Lakeshore) got that declaration,” Mayor Ron Meer said Friday. “Many thought it was a national park already, but now it’s truly a national park.
“The amount of promotion it will get through this puts it in another category, as far as promotion at a national and (state) level. I think it will bring even more visitors to our area, which gives Michigan City an opportunity to showcase what we have here as well as (encourage) future investments.”
Meer said the park is truly a treasure, and one that will benefit future generations. He pointed out that with plans for NIPSCO to ultimately vacate its plant in Michigan City, the city’s harbor will eventually open up all the way to Mount Baldy.
Mount Baldy the dune has been closed since July 2013, when 6-year-old Nathan Woessner fell into a 12-inch hole and became trapped under 11 feet of sand. Michigan City emergency responders and private contractors rescued him by moving as much as 400 tons of sand.
But the beach at Mount Baldy reopened in July 2017.
Meer said it was crucial to get that beach back open.
“Many people who visit that venue now come into Michigan City,” he said. “There are people that have vacation plans for this area. Whether they have a rental property on the lakefront, or stay in a hotel, they visit the beaches and trail system (as well as amenities like local restaurants and shops)… I think it’s going to bring a large volume of people in visiting our city… It’s just good for our community to get that exposure.”
According to Indiana Dunes Tourism, the National Lakeshore was already quite popular even before the new designation. About 3.6 million visitors came to the Indiana Dunes (both the National Lakeshore and the separate Indiana Dunes State Park) in 2018.
In terms of visitation, the Indiana Dunes already ranked seventh in the nation, putting them just under Yellowstone out of the 418 National Park service units.
“We could not be prouder of Visclosky’s efforts and the work our National Park Service members have done to make this a reality,” said Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism.
“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.”
According to a statement from the organization, the dunes were created when glaciers receded from the area 14,000 years ago, creating white, sandy beaches along 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. These beaches are ranked among the best in the nation, making the Indiana Dunes a premier family-friendly destination and the top visitor attraction Indiana.
The bill making this designation possible was House Bill 684, which was sponsored by Visclosky and co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Young and Mike Braun.
“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,” Visclosky said. ”
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.”
Walorski called the news exciting.
“I’m thrilled that the Indiana Dunes will be our state’s first National Park. 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.
“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.”
Young said the new designation “certifies what we Hoosiers have known all along — Indiana Dunes is not just a state treasure, but a national treasure as well. I commend Representative Visclosky for his perseverance on this important Hoosier priority. Without his tireless advocacy, this goal would not have been accomplished. I look forward to visiting Indiana’s first National Park very soon.”
According to Dunes Tourism, Indiana Dunes advocates have been trying to get national park status for the National Lakeshore since 1916.