“The Dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and Yosemite is to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity. Once lost, the loss would be irrevocable.”
--Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Carl Sandburg wrote these words in support of Senator Paul Douglas’ efforts toward Dunes preservation on June 27, 1958.
Interest in a national park on the southern shore of Lake Michigan can be traced back to at least 1899, according to an administrative history of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore by National Park Service (NPS) historian Ron Cockrell.
It was the first area considered for addition to the newly established NPS in 1916 by the agency's first director, Stephen T. Mather, and another early leader, Stanley Albright. They identified a strip of lakeshore twenty-five miles long and one mile wide for the acquisition of a “Sand Dunes National Park."
While key components of the proposed park were lost to development, a small area was set aside by the state in 1926 as the Indiana Dunes State Park. Then, in 1952 the Save the Dunes Council was formed, conducted a national fund-raising effort and succeeded in purchasing and protecting additional small parcels, including the 56-acre Cowles Tamarack Bog.
After five decades, legislation was passed authorizing the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966, protecting about half of the twenty-five miles of lakeshore originally identified by Mather. Subsequent expansion bills have increased the park size from 8,330 acres of land and water to 15,000 acres.
A unique environment of long, moving sand dunes (Mt. Baldy is the largest at 126 feet high) separated by marshes that attract animals and especially migratory birds, the area is also home to more than 1,135 native plant species (the park ranks seventh in plant diversity among all the national parks in the US). Approximately 2 million visitors enjoy the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
“A lot of people don’t realize the breadth of what we do, and that’s ok. We like to make it look effortless,” Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa Dillon said. “Parks that are most successful are parks that are cherished and valued not by just the visiting public but by the people who live around them. For quite sometime this park was busy acquiring land. That acquisition phase is now done. Making the park an asset to the region – both economically and environmentally – is what will make it successful in the long run.”
To that end, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has formed a number of strategic partnerships, including the Dunes Learning Center, the Historic Landmarks Foundation Indiana, the City of Portage and, most recently, the Dunes National Park Association (DNPA).
“There are many organizations that do things to support the park, and they are all important” Dillon explained. “Some organizations have goals that intersect with the park, while these formal partnership agreements allow us to work compatibly for a sole purpose, to achieve the park’s goals.”
For example, DNPA was established last May as an independent nonprofit that provides a voice for individuals and strives to unite community organizations, business leaders, governments and elected officials to encourage investment in the park, strengthening the economic benefits the park provides to the community and reinforcing its value to the region.
DNPA hit the ground running and initiated three projects under past president David Megremis:
• “Nature in My Neighborhood” backpacks – DNPA helped purchase 500 exploration backpacks so children could continue to investigate following a program at the Paul Douglas Center for Environmental Education.
• Distance Learning System Equipment – DNPA is working to connect students in the classroom with park employees and scientists in the field for live interactive experiences via Skype.
• Historic District Signs – New signs will recognize the amazing restoration efforts at the Century of Progress Historic Homes District (another example of partnership with the National Park Service).
Earlier this month, DNPA named new officers who will be working on committees that handle strategic planning, finances, marketing and membership for the organization. These include: Speros A. Batistatos, president; Mike Shymanski, vice president; Donna Kuschel, secretary; Robin Carlascio, treasurer.
President and CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Association, Batistatos plans to bring his experience with destination and tourism marketing to help promote the mission and vision of the DNPA. With an extensive list of goals, Batistatos is confident that DNPA will help make a difference to the south shore of Lake Michigan.
“It’s important that we work together to educate people on the importance of the dunes,” he said. “Just as our partners at the South Shore CVA – which range from as far away as the Chicago White Sox to Blue Chip Casino and Fair Oaks Dairy - find incredible value in what we do. We educate, inform and generate support for the local hospitality industry. We work with elected officials at every level and have been lobbying for pro-hospitality legislation for more than 23 years. Using a market-driven approach that focuses on the consumer with state-of-the-art technology, we’ve become a marketing powerhouse. The Dunes National Park Association can benefit from the very same highly successful business model.”
The promotion and marketing of attractions (recreation areas, historic sites, museums and memorials plus the accommodations, restaurants and shopping venues that serve travelers) and events (community festivals, regional/national meetings, conventions, trade shows or sporting events) must be holistic, according to Batistatos.
“Individual and independent marketing and public relations efforts will not lead to the holistic approach necessary for success in today’s competitive marketplace,” he added. “The recognition and understanding of what we can achieve collectively, and how far it can exceed the sum of any individual efforts, will help make the Dunes an even greater place for future generations.”
To learn more about protecting the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and making improvements beyond what the government can do, go to www.dunesnationalpark.org online.