EDITORIAL: Congress should end road rage within park

2012-11-18T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Congress should end road rage within park nwitimes.com
November 18, 2012 12:00 am  • 

There are some things it would take an act of Congress to resolve, and straightening out the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore access issues is unfortunately one of them.

This urban park holds promise not just for preserving a priceless bit of nature and history -- arguably the birthplace of the modern science of ecology -- but also for economic development. Parks exist to serve visitors as well as to preserve nature and history.

Park Superintendent Costa Dillon discussed this issue recently with The Times editorial board. The park stretches across 14 municipalities.

"Almost every bit of the park is in somebody's town on city," he said. Some are partners in the park's development and operation, and some are obstacles.

When the park was created, Congress didn't convey to the National Park Service the right to control roads within the park. That's key to both the creation and solution of this problem.

The National Park Service would like to turn a portion of U.S. 12 into a scenic highway, setting up wayside displays to explain about the park. The Indiana Department of Transportation hasn't agreed to this proposal, however.

The park service has also offered to plow and repair the roads in Beverly Shores, but the Town Council has refused. Beverly Shores also doesn't allow buses or RVs on town streets, which limits visitors' access to the park.

Some lakefront communities even refuse to give up rights to roads that were planned but never built, and are wholly within the national park. That further hampers plans to bring more visitors to the Dunes.

"You've got almost a private beach at government expense," Dillon said.

The current Porter Town Council is fighting the park service's plans to improve traffic flow and parking at Porter Beach. 

All of this goes against the Marquette Plan philosophy of opening Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline for public access.

Think of the hotel, restaurant and other visitor service jobs that could be created if visitors were allowed better access to the national park. The park's economic development potential would be fulfilled.

With the National Park Service stymied by these access issues, Congress should authorize the National Park Service to acquire roads and easements within the park's boundaries and then put money where its mouth is.

Make this truly the public's park, and not a park benefiting mostly people in nearby communities.

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