GARY | Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Thursday said the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is perhaps the greatest natural urban park in the U.S.
Salazar paid a visit to the national park and toured the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education on Thursday after making an announcement in Chicago of a $1 million grant to restore 15 miles of Lake Michigan's shoreline as part of the Millennium Reserve conservation project.
Salazar's visit to Chicago and Northwest Indiana was part of a four-state swing through the Midwest to highlight President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative.
“As part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors program, we're putting a spotlight on all these great places around the country,” Salazar said. “These are economic engines because they help revitalize communities.”
Salazar was also in the region to talk to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Constantine Dillon about how Salazar can help ensure all Americans knows more about the Dunes.
“It’s one of the greatest natural urban parks — maybe the greatest — in terms of the scope of an urban setting,” Salazar said.
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, was joined Salazar and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on the tour of the Dunes. Brown said he hopes the level of interest Salazar has in the Douglas Center will enhance opportunities to finish some of the work that is incomplete there.
Also on hand was Lee Botts, founder of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. She said the visit from Salazar means that the National Park Service “really values this national park.”
When the National Lakeshore was created, "the National Park Service was not enthusiastic about having a park that would be broken up in a number of different pieces,” Botts said.
“They actually opposed it in Congress. We had to get it approved in spite of the opposition," she said. "The enthusiasm of the National Park Service today for our park is really welcome.”
In Chicago, Salazar, Durbin and other state and local officials announced the $1 million shoreline restoration grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Zone Management program and 12 new Millennium Reserve conservation projects.
Some of the projects include installation of 200 rain barrels in Blue Island to address stormwater issues, restoration of 93 acres of wetlands on Cook County Forest Reserve properties and conversion of 60 acres of Chicago Park District land into wildlife habitat, according to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources news release.
Plans for the Millennium Reserve were announced in December. When completed, it will encompass about 140,000 acres of land in the Calumet Region.