Indiana Dunes Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

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Mount Baldy to remain closed this summer as holes mystery persists

April 24, 2014 - The Times

MICHIGAN CITY | Officials at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore announced Thursday that scientists still do not know what caused holes to appear in Mount Baldy last summer, and the popular attraction will remain closed for further study.

Nathan Woessner, 6, of Sterling, Ill., was swallowed up by a hole on July 12, 2013, and rescued by firefighters.

Two additional holes have appeared since last July, park officials said on Thursday.

Ground penetrating radar studies performed by the Environmental Protection Agency have identified a large number of anomalies below the dune’s surface, but scientists from the National Park Service, Indiana University and the Indiana Geological Survey still do not know how these holes were formed.

“Mount Baldy is one of the most visited sites in the national lakeshore, attracting thousands of visitors each year” said Acting Superintendent Garry Traynham in a press release. “But the continued development of these holes in the dune surface poses a serious risk to the public. Our first obligation must be to the welfare of our visitors who are here for an enjoyable outing.”

The two additional holes and a number of depressions have been found since July. Officials said report that the holes are short-lived, remaining open for less than 24 hours before collapsing and filling in naturally with surrounding sand.

Officials at the National Lakeshore on Thursday announced more testing will be conducting this summer, which will include mapping of openings, depressions,and studies that will allow scientists to develop a better understanding of the overall internal architecture of the dune.

Park workers this summer will continue planting marram grass on portions of Mount Baldy where the native dune grass used to grow. The extensive root system of the grass holds sand in place and may also help prevent holes from opening up on the dune’s surface.

All other beach access areas within the National Lakeshore remain open.

Read the original story and see photos here.

Dunes parks' history deeply tied to Chicago, local activism

Dr Henry Chandler CowlesApril 20, 2014 - Lauri Harvey Keagle, The Times

The push for protection of the Indiana Dunes began 115 years ago in Chicago.

Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles, a University of Chicago botanist, studied the concept of succession or how plant species change to make room for new species to take over. The Indiana Dunes served as Cowles' outdoor laboratory. He published an article in 1899 that established him as the father of U.S. plant ecology. The work brought international attention to the dunes.

By 1908, industry was beginning to thrive on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Around the same time, the Chicago-based Prairie Club in 1913 began camping at the dunes.

Stephen Mather — a Chicago industrialist and member of the Prairie Club who would become the first director of the National Park Service — in 1916 proposed a 12,000-acre Sand Dunes National Park.

World War I slowed industrial development and environmental activism in the dunes. After the war ended, the Indiana legislature approved the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1923 and it was signed into law in 1925.

Dunes parks aiming to expand visitor experiences

April 19, 2014 10:30 pm  •  Lauri Harvey Keagle, The Times 

Officials at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park are focusing on expanding the public’s view of their parks as they ready the properties for the busiest season of the year.

"(Visitors) think of just the beach and the dunes," Bruce Rowe, spokesman for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore said. "One of the things we try to do is let people know that we have 15,000 acres of park and a lot of those are wetlands and woodlands."

Brandt Baughman, park manager for Indiana Dunes State Park, said people have the same misconception about that park. "We've always had an interpretive presence at the beach," Baughman said. "The last couple of years, we've made a concerted effort to do roving presentations. It lets them know there is a nature center here at the park and that we have 2,170 other acres besides the beach."

Big plans to expand, restore lakefront park

April 13, 2014 - John Robbins, Post-Tribune

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a rare instance of prized Lake Michigan shore property being recaptured from industrial use and reclaimed for public recreational use in an equally rare partnership between the city of Portage and the National Park Service.

The park’s land and structures are owned by the National Park Service but managed and operated by Portage.

The lakefront park covers 57 acres wedged between Burns Waterway and a U.S. Steel, formerly Midwest Steel, mill to the east, the town of Ogden Dunes to the west and Precoat Metals to the south. The site was formerly owned by the National Steel Co. and used for settling ponds and treatment of industrial wastes and byproducts.

Open only since 2008, the land is showing growing pains that are a product of its success. Portage is in the midst of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar expansion, rejuvenation and restoration project to protect the park from its popularity.

A nearly $250,000 bundle of four park repair projects is underway, and Jenny Orsburn, Portage parks superintendent, expects them to be completed by Memorial Day.

Dividing the work among four area contractors will help ensure that the projects are done by the summer season kickoff, but A.J. Monroe, the city’s community development director, cautions that construction deadlines are at the mercy of the weather.

The work will restore damage to facilities and the environment caused by erosion. Some damage is due to water runoff. Installing curbs and gutters along roads, paths and parking lots will channel runoff and reduce future erosion.

A stairway leading to the Riverwalk boardwalk has been undercut and will require major foundation work, according to Orsburn. The stairway is currently closed until repairs are finished.

The park landscape is also being damaged by visitors’ use of shortcuts through the property. These trails are of heightened concern because of the fragile nature of the landscape — vegetation damaged by walking along the shortcuts cannot keep sand from moving, and wind and rain quickly move the exposed sand from where it should be to where it shouldn’t, such as along paved walkways or drains.

Railings will be installed to help control and direct pedestrian traffic to reduce the use of shortcuts and the resultant erosion, Orsburn said.

She said the park’s 125 parking spaces are woefully inadequate, especially on weekends from June through Labor Day, meaning the city must spend more on traffic control. The planned major expansion of the park will include 300 more parking spaces.

An approximately 40-acre site south of Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, formerly owned by U. S. Steel, is owned by the city’s redevelopment commission and will be used to expand the park. A vacant U. S. Steel training center and a 200,000-square-foot warehouse occupy the site.

The commission is getting ready to solicit bids for an estimated $1.5 million project, the bulk of which will create the extra parking and a connecting trail from the parking lot to the park. The new parking and trail should be open for public use in spring 2015, Monroe said.

The warehouse, still occupied and used by U. S. Steel under a lease that expires at the end of 2014, will be demolished in 2015, and the site will be restored through part of a $4.8 million grant with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Monroe said. The Army Corps is expected to carry out some waterway restoration along the Little Calumet River and Burns Waterway as part of the grant.

The redevelopment commission will hire an architect to develop plans for converting the training center for city use.

“The channel work will require additional analysis and modeling,” said Monroe, and will be undertaken at a later date.

For now, Portage Lakefront and Riverfront retains an industrial flavor, with visitors sharing the road with trucks arriving and leaving adjacent steel plants.

Monroe and Orsburn stressed the need for the park to coexist with its neighbors, some of whose land might be acquired in the future.

“It’s our little piece of Lake Michigan,” Orsburn said of the park. “It’s exciting to have our piece of beach.”

Read the original article online here.

Teens looking for summer work?

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has jobs for 10 teenagers this summer. The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program is a work-learn-earn program for 15 to 18 year olds. Deadline to apply is April 30. No experience is necessary. Participants will be selected by random draw from the pool of applications.

Participants are paid $7.25 an hour for the 40-hour work week. The program runs from June 9 to August 15. Applicants should be prepared to work the entire length of the program. Youth jobs include working as part of a crew to do a variety of manual labor tasks, normally outdoors. The crews perform work such as staining, painting and caulking the exterior of park buildings and work as grounds maintenance (mowing grass, picking up trash, etc.) and trails rehabilitation.

To be eligible participants must be U.S. citizens and 15 years old before June 9, 2014, but not turn 19 years old before August 15, 2014, the ending date of the program. The YCC application form is available through high school guidance offices or from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Employee Services Office at (219) 395-1721. The forms are also available on the national lakeshore website at: http://www.nps.gov/indu/parkmgmt/jobs.htm