PORTAGE | The site of a 1911 shipwreck just off of what is now the Indiana Dunes State Park shoreline could become the state's first underwater preserve by month's end.
"Not only is it a piece of history, but it is a piece of our cultural history," Mike Molnar, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Lake Michigan Coastal Program, said Thursday. "The Great Lakes were the super highways of their time."
The 100-acre J.D. Marshall Preserve — named for the sand-hauling ship that sprung a leak, capsized in a storm and sank, killing four crew members — is set for an official vote by the Natural Resource Commission on Sept. 17. If approved, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources would host an official dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Sept. 30 at the park.
Molnar told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee on Thursday morning the preserve would be "a first for Indiana."
The wreck is due north of the pavilion at the state park. Molnar said the exact location site will not be disclosed to keep souvenir hunters away, but it will be open to diving.
Buoys designating the four corners of the preserve would keep boats from dropping anchor and potentially damaging the wreck site as well, he said.
The J.D. Marshall was built in 1891 in South Haven, Mich., and converted from a timber hauler to a sand barge in 1910 after its sister ship, the Muskegon, burned and sank near Mount Baldy in Michigan City.
The wreck was discovered in 1979 by an early explorer of Lake Michigan shipwrecks, Molnar said. The ship was raised in 1982 by salvage crews from Michigan planning to sell what they could for scrap. They were stopped by conservation police, Molnar said, but not until after the propeller and other pieces already had been removed.
As conservation officers were investigating the scrappers, the lines holding the ships remains broke and it sank again.
The rudder and deck winch have been preserved in Michigan City, Molnar said.
Molnar said the IDNR would work in partnership with the state park for educational programs about the site and is hoping to work with the Duneland Chamber of Commerce on tourism opportunities beyond the site itself.
Molnar said it is exciting to be on the cusp of the preserve coming to fruition.
"Three times in the last 30 years, when management plans were made, nothing was done," he said. "They just sat on the shelf. We're trying to get this done."