Breaking waves

Waves break near driftwood at scenic Kemil Beach, which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, is halfway to his goal of converting Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into America's 60th national park.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously approved legislation to apply the national park moniker to the 15,000 acres of federally held land stretching for 15 miles along the south shore of Lake Michigan.

If H.R. 1488 is approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by the president, the federal Dunes property would join the ranks of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains and other natural wonders recognized as truly special places in the United States.

"While this is a small change, it would have an enormous benefit of rightly placing the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore where it belongs as the nation's 60th national park and the first national park in the state of Indiana," Visclosky said.

The veteran congressman noted the Dunes Lakeshore initially was recommended for national park status in 1916 due to its unique biological diversity and geological features.

That effort stalled due to 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.

While the national lakeshore is operated by the National Park Service, a national park designation for the Dunes is expected to help draw significantly more visitors to the lakeshore's beaches, wetlands, savannahs, sand dunes, hiking trails and recreational facilities.

"It is incumbent that we do everything possible to encourage citizens and travelers from around the world to visit the park to learn, recreate and simply enjoy the sublime environment of the Northwest Indiana Lakeshore," Vislcosky said. "H.R. 1488 helps to achieve this goal."

Visclosky's proposal to change the national lakeshore into a national park was co-sponsored by Indiana's eight other Democratic and Republican House members.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., both said they're now ready to do what it takes to shepherd the measure through the Senate and onto the president's desk.

"The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is one of our state's most beautiful natural resources," Donnelly said. "Designating the Dunes as a national park would give the area the recognition it deserves, attracting more visitors and helping further grow the economy in Northwest Indiana."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.