National Park Service eyes Porter Beach access

2012-11-18T00:00:00Z 2012-11-19T11:55:06Z National Park Service eyes Porter Beach accessSusan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com
November 18, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PORTER | Visitors to Porter Beach could be in for a treat in summers to come.

The small but popular Lake Michigan waterfront is being eyed for possible future work to improve access to the beach and make visits a better experience. 

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa Dillon recently referred to it as Porter's complement to the new lakefront park in Portage that has received wide acclaim.

"The big issue there (Porter Beach) is traffic and congestion," said Eric Ehn, management assistant with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Officials with the agency, which is managed by the National Park Service, are early in the process for determining what, if anything, might be done to improve conditions.

The National Lakeshore and the town of Porter have adjoining beaches at the location, tucked between the community of Dune Acres to the west and Indiana Dunes State Park -- a separate entity from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore -- to the east.

"There is no visitor impact on personal property," Dillon said. National Park Service rangers and signs deter visitors from trespassing or littering on private property nearby.

Some of the town's residents have concerns.

"It's not that we don't want to share our beaches," Porter Town Council President Elka Nelson said. "But there's no physical room. Even if there is more parking, there are no streets to put the traffic on."

Visitors to the National Lakeshore will "need to use our public streets, that are unimproved," Nelson said. "They'd have to cut through Dunes. There's the idea of additional congestion and emissions.

"There are a lot of groups in support of Dillon and the National Park Service," Nelson said. "And we're not unreasonable. But they need to address the immediate impact."

Wabash Avenue in Porter provides the only access by car to Porter Beach, including the town's 60 feet of beach and the National Lakeshore's 400 feet of beach.

The two-lane road is heavily traveled on summer beach days.

"It gets pretty crowded there," Ehn said. 

Visitor use of the beach is on the rise, and the trend is likely to continue even though no effort has been made by the National Park Service to attract more visitors, according to the National Lakeshore.

Goals of the National Lakeshore plan center on improving traffic circulation, including emergency access for fire and police vehicles, and on developing a formal picnic area accessible to people with disabilities and easily reachable from the beach.

The beach is public property under Indiana law, and the public want and have the right to use it, according to the National Lakeshore.

But the costs to the town of Porter, including for maintenance, law enforcement and traffic management, also are among issues listed in a draft prepared by the National Lakeshore for distribution to guests of public meeting in late June.

With several steps remaining in the formal planning process, a final decision has not yet been made. Public input will be invited along the way. The decision, when it comes, will be released to the public.

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