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Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


Observation deck and breakwall at Portage Lakeshore Park construction site, 14 July 2008. NPS staff photo.

The heavy rains, high winds, and flooding that plagued the Midwest as the remnants of Hurricane Ike passed through struck an especially hard blow in northwest Indiana and left quite a mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The heavy rains, high winds, and flooding came at an awkward time, necessitating hurried cleanup and repairs.

After Hurricane Ike trashed the northern Texas Gulf Coast, it degraded to a tropical storm and headed on a long, slow track into the heart of the Midwest by the weekend of September 12-13. There the storm’s heavy rains, strong winds, and flooding wreaked havoc in a wide swath. At least 17 people were killed, more than two million homes and businesses were left without power, and floodwaters surged unto roads and into some residential neighborhoods.

Indiana was heavily hit as torrential rains (four to ten inches in places) swelled rivers and sustained gale force winds over 40 mph damaged trees and buildings. By Monday, September 15, six Indiana residents were dead, 150,000 were without power, and a section of busy Interstate 80/94 remained partly closed. The storm-related death toll in Indiana rose to eight by September 19.

President Bush authorized the issuing of a major disaster declaration for the state of Indiana. Damages were particularly severe in northwestern Indiana, where some ten inches of rain fell in a matter of hours. The residents of three lakeshore counties -- Lake, LaPorte, and Porter – were declared eligible for federal disaster aid. At least 1,000 homes in the three counties were damaged, including about 300 that were severely damaged or destroyed.

All of this is to say that the remnants of Hurricane Ike reserved some of its worst punishment for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore locale. The 15,000-acre national park is long and narrow, stretching for nearly 25 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan from Gary, Indiana, on the west to Michigan City, Indiana, on the east. Parts of the park lie in all three of the lakeshore counties made eligible for federal disaster relief.

To view the visitor map of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, visit this site. Detailed maps of the par’s various units are available at this site.

Indiana Dunes was left with the task of cleaning storm debris from several miles of beaches between Burns Waterway and West Beach (at the county line). Towards this end the park requested Park Service emergency funding.

The Park Service is particularly concerned about cleanup and repair efforts for the new Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, which is located on the west side of the Burns Waterway Harbor within the city limits of Portage. The 57-acre facility, which will offer parking for 125 cars, an accessible fishing pier, a riverwalk along Burns Waterway, a rehabilitated breakwater, various hike/bike trails, access to the beach, and a 3,500 square foot pavilion, is scheduled for dedication on October 16.

Park officials hope to have the cleanup and repairs completed at the new facility by October 15. Storm debris is the main problem, but because the construction project hadn’t been completed by the time the storm hit, beachfront erosion was heavier than it should have been. The need for salvaging operations and dredging along the shore necessitates the involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.


Just a correction - Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is not a "park." Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a section of the lakeshore - not a park in itself any more than Mammoth Hot Springs is a "park" within Yellowstone.

Thanks. I made the correction. [***Weaselspeak alert!!***] Newspapers -- including the Post-Tribune right there in NW Indiana -- referred to the new facility as a "park". This, plus the fact that the facility is within the city limits of Portage, contributed to the confusion. As for your park-within-a-park comment, well, that's a loose caveat at best. There are lots of units within national parks that are formally called parks. National Capital Parks-East, for example, has at least five sub-units that are officially named "park."

I accede to your point on the National Captcal Parks. I have followed discussions on this site and am familiar with Indiana Dunes. I think the fact that local papers do not recognize a national park here is a critical point. The name lakeshore is too confusing. The park is in the city limits of more than a dozen cities and towns, but has no single identity. Hence. making sure that people do not think that the City of Portage runs this site is very important for the park in order to maintain a sense of its public identity as NOT a city or state park.

“Those dunes are to the midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity: once lost, the loss would be irrevocable.” Carl Sandburg 1958

It's hard for this national park to establish a clear identity, being as fragmented and urban-entwined as it is. And I agree that lakeshore is not a conceptually tidy term, Anon. Can you suggest another, more appropriate descriptor? I can't........

Bob - When Stephen Mather first proposed this site for inclusion in the National Park System in 1916 he called it Sand Dunes National Park. That name would be too confusing now because of Great Sand Dunes NP. But, other names such as Lake Michigan Dunes NP, Marquette NP, or Calumet NP would work. And yes, I think it should be a national park. It deserves it as much as Hot Springs, Congaree, or Cuyahoga Valley. The failure to adequately protect this entire area when the nation had a chance in 1916 is one of the greatest environmental and conservation tragedies in the history of the U.S. and one not often told or known outside the Chicago area. Waking the 10 million people of this area to the fact that they have a part of the National Park System nearby would be good for the entire national park movement because it would add to the urban and political support the parks need. There is no other national park area within 175 miles of Indiana Dunes and it is the closest NPS site to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Southwest Michigan.

"Should public regard or private means procure it for the country, it will be the only national park within reach of millions of workers for weekend pleasure. The Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Adirondack, White Mountain, and other national parks always will be sacred to the few who have money and plenty of time. Here is a chance for the powers that be to show regard for the working people of the middle West, who are, after all, the pillars of America. Could there not be at least one national park within reach of the masses of the citizens and their children?"
----"Miss McCauley's Column," circa 1918

How true, and how sad. Congress' failure to seize the initiative at Indiana Dunes back in 1916 is all the more frustrating -- and ironic -- when you consider that, in that very same year of 1916, a national park was established on Maui and the Big Island in the faraway territory of Hawaii.

I just read your articles concerning the confusing counting methods of the NPS, and the Hurricane Ike damage at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I thought I would share some thoughts and information with you.

The City of Portage will in fact be managing the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk portion of INDU. The NPS purchased and developed this property, probably the last available portion of Indiana shoreline (unless the steel mills in the area sell off more land...). BUT it is in partnership with the City of Portage: Portage will be mainly responsible for staffing and managing this piece of land. This is indeed a unique partnership, for the similar partnerships would have the NPS managing land purchased by a state or municipality.
SO, it sits on NPS owned land, but the NPS has given management over to the town in which the land sits. Confusing to say the least.

Most visitors from within the state of Indiana assume the entire park area is part of the Indiana Dunes State Park, established in the 1920's. Most visitors from outside of Indiana assume the entire park is part of the National Lakeshore, established in the 1960's. While the two parks share very similar names, no real partnership actually exists between the NPS and the Indiana DNR. Most Illinois/ Chicago visitors see the beaches only, not realizing that the beaches are attached to state and national parkland. Then you throw the local tourism marketing concerns into the mix and the confusion gets even worse.

The new Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center is actually a tourist information distribution center that sits on a state highway outside of the INDU boundaries. The facility is shared by the NPS (somewhat), the Indiana State Department of Natural Resources (barely), and a Porter County, IN tourism marketing organization. While most NPS park visitors that seek out this visitor center assume it is an NPS facility, the NPS only rents office space from the building's actual owners, the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission. Another "partnership" of sorts, but one that only really benefits the PCCRVC. Walk into this visitor center and you are overwhelmed by county tourism brochures and propaganda; NPS and DNR literature is hidden away in a corner.

Talk about confusing! Trying to establish an identity that satisfies all of the area concerns will be impossible.

Cooperation between the NPS and State authorities is possible. Probably the best example is Redwood National and States Parks in California. There three State parks (dedicated in the 1910s) were connected by Redwood National park in 1968. In 1984 the administration was put together and now the Parks are led by a superintendent from the NPS under shared jurisdiction. It could be done elsewhere as well.

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