A U.S. House committee unanimously agreed Wednesday that Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore should become America's 60th national park.
Approval by the House Natural Resources Committee means H.R. 1488, the Indiana Dunes National Park Act, is eligible for a vote by the full House in coming months on whether to send the proposal to the Senate.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, is sponsor of the legislation, along with the eight other Republican and Democratic members of Indiana's U.S. House delegation.
"I hope that the full House considers this important legislation as soon as possible so that we can quickly begin to harness this national recognition of the Indiana Dunes and attract new visitors and economic activity to our Region," Visclosky said.
The Dunes initially was recommended to become a national park in 1916 due to its unique biological diversity and geological features.
That effort by Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, stalled during World War I.
Local conservation work then led to the establishment of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925 and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966.
The National Lakeshore territory has since been expanded four times.
Visclosky has said he believes if the National Lakeshore becomes a national park it will further grow the Region's tourism industry and make Northwest Indiana a nationally known destination.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, said the opportunity to enjoy the Dunes' "natural beauty and outdoor recreation" deserves to be experienced by all Americans.
"Making it the first national park in Indiana will strengthen our state's economy by drawing more tourists from around the country and boosting the outdoor recreation industry that is so vital to our region," she said.
"I look forward to voting for this bipartisan bill on the House floor."
Should the measure ultimately win House approval, Indiana's two U.S. senators, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Todd Young, say they are ready to shepherd it through the Senate and onto the president's desk.
"I am hopeful the full House of Representatives will quickly pass this legislation now that it has advanced from the committee," Donnelly said.
"Designating the Dunes as a national park would give the area the recognition it deserves, attract more visitors and further stimulate the Region's economy."
"Changing its designation to a national park will give families who live outside our great state the opportunity to know about, and enjoy, one of Indiana's most beautiful places," he said.