Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.

Building for tomorrow requires the good sense of laying a foundation on solid, proven ground.

It's why a move afoot in Congress to designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a full national park is such a welcome concept to Northwest Indiana.

As America's National Park Week draws to a close, we all should be calling on our federal lawmakers to see this one through.

Our Region frequently bears witness to local government leaders or planners grasping for the next big economic development opportunity.

We're also accustomed to a clamoring for improvement or growth in our quality-of-life amenities.

And in the same chorus, some people lament a lack of marketable identity or uniqueness to a Region resting in the shadow of Chicago.

In the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, we have a proven answer to all of those coveted qualities requiring no snake-oil salesman to peddle it.

The National Park Service, which administers the National Lakeshore, recently released its 2016 visitor statistics, and the dunes continue to have the phrase "economic engine" scrawled throughout their sandy peaks and valleys.

In 2016, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore experienced 1.7 million recreational visits, including people from throughout the world.

Those visitors spent $73.8 million in the dunes' gateway communities, the park service reported. Gateway communities are those within 60 miles of a park service attraction, so all of Northwest Indiana benefited.

That's up by $4 million from last year's dunes-related visitor spending, which has been climbing steadily for the past three years.

The presence of the dunes also accounted for 1,000 jobs within the gateway communities, $39.4 million in labor income and a whopping $100.9 million in overall economic output into the communities, the park service's 2016 figures show.

Don't let their shifting sands fool you. Economically speaking, the dunes are a granite-strong foundation for future Region economic growth.

These already-promising figures have room to expand, and an important piece of that growth lies in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore becoming the Indiana Dunes National Park.

A bipartisan effort by U.S. House Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., seeks to accomplish this goal.

Full national park status would place the dunes on a marketing, mapping and tourism list next to the grand national parks of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and many others.

And why not?

Though some often are down on our Region for perceived shortcomings, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has all of the breathtaking qualities of a full national park.

It boasts an incredibly diverse ecosystem, has one of the most beautiful stretches of freshwater beaches in the world and offers miles of recreational hiking trails.

Years ago, my then family of four enjoyed viewing wild cactus in and near Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Last weekend, my now family of six were awestruck to learn that the same prickly pear cactus we admired in the Southwest grows wild and native in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Coyotes, deer, fox and a host of other wildlife thrive a literal stone’s throw from urban and industrial expanses.

Who can forget the wayfaring black bear to whom our dunes region played host when it ventured onto Northwest Indiana soil by way of Michigan?

For generations, Region and Chicago residents have known about the gem that is the dunes.

I grew up in the western suburbs but frequently camped with the Boy Scouts at the national lakeshore or Indiana Dunes State Park campgrounds, and a scoutmaster owned a beach house in Michigan City.

Placing the already thriving wonders of the dunes on a national park list would share its existence with a greater share of the world and potentially bring in more economically stimulating visitors.

We're fortunate our dunes already largely are under the auspices of the national park service, an important factor in protecting and preserving these wonders for current and future generations.

It's an economic no-brainer to evolve these 15,000-year-old natural wonders to the next level in our social, economic and recreational vernacular.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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