Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, said it’s pure coincidence that the tourism organization released a series of five videos on YouTube promoting the dunes the same week that P. Daniel Smith, interim director of the National Park Service, testified before a U.S. Senate committee on why the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore shouldn’t be reclassified as a national park.
Still, the timing couldn’t be better and Weimer and other supporters of the change, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously last year, share the belief that the legislation will still clear the U.S. Senate with the support of that chamber.
Smith, in his Aug. 15 statement, said the change “would be inconsistent with the National Park Service’s naming conventions for different types of park units.”
He went on to say that the designation of “national park” should “be reserved for units that contain a variety of resources and encompass large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.”
The St. Louis Arch, at 193 acres, was recently renamed as Gateway National Park, Weimer said, and it’s far smaller than the 15,000 acres that comprise the national lakeshore, which also hold tremendous biodiversity in four geographical zones.
The national lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park together garner 3.6 million visitors, she said, adding the dunes are No. 7 in the top 10 destinations within the National Park Service for number of visitors.
And there’s the added mix of sitting along one of the Great Lakes, too, she said.
“I think when you look at all of it, not only are we deserving of it, it should have happened a long time ago,” Weimer said. “I just can’t believe we’re debating this. It’s a no-brainer.”
The change in classification would be a boost to the region in terms of visitors, particularly those whose bucket list includes visiting as many national parks as possible, she said, adding other than replacing signage and other details, there’s no major cost associated with the switch, which also would create the only national park in the state.
“I don’t know what the con would be. I don’t know the flipside,” she said.
Also keeping a positive perspective is Paul Labovoitz, superintendent of the national lakeshore.
“It’s not uncommon that an executive branch agency has concerns about proposed legislation, and Congress does what Congress does,” he said.
The region’s legislative delegation, which supports the change in park status and sponsored the legislation to do so in their respective chambers, also has weighed in.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said the senator was disappointed to hear Smith’s statement and will continue to work with the National Park Service and other stakeholders to identify a path forward.
Also sharing his thoughts was U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary.
“Concerns expressed by agencies in the executive branch are not an uncommon step in the legislative process. I remain optimistic that H.R. 1488, which is cosponsored by every Indiana Member of Congress and unanimously approved by the House, will become law and our lakeshore will get the long overdue recognition it deserves and further drive economic activity in our region,” he said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said in a prepared remark that he remains hopeful about the legislation as well.
“I remain hopeful that this legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on a unanimous vote, will be taken up by the Senate. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a cherished natural resource in our state, and I believe it deserves the recognition of National Park status,” he said.