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During the hot summer months, the large sand dune just to the east of the pavilion parking lot at the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton is all about the climbing.

But this time of year, the snow transforms the dune into the Devil's Slide and draws adventurous sledders of all ages to take the 140-foot plunge.

"It's a nice run," property manager Brandt Baughman said.

The park does not offer a lift back to the top, which tends to limit the number of trips back down, he said.

"You have to earn the thrill of sledding down it," Baughman said.

The state park is among the many natural sites across the Region that offer different sorts of recreational opportunities once the temperatures take a plunge and the snow begins to fall.

Sledding is being offered for the first time this year at West Beach in Portage, according to Park Ranger and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Public Information Officer Bruce Rowe.

A dune is being made available northwest of the main parking area, he said.

"It's a good size dune," Rowe said.

Sledders also can find a hill and a thrill at Oak Ridge Prairie & Oak Savannah Trail park in Griffith, said Emily Trisler, communication specialist with the Lake County Parks Department.

Cross-country ski options abound

Those wanting a little less of a rush can head over to Stoney Run County Park near Hebron for cross-country skiing, Trisler said. Skis are available for rent from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day when conditions are appropriate and there is even a place to warm up when skiers come off the trails, she said.

This year's snowfall also has brought cross-country skiers back to the Indiana Dunes State Park, Baughman said. There had not been enough snow for skiing the past couple of years.

"People have been chomping at the bit for good powder to cross-country ski on," he said.

Trails 2 and 10 are the most appropriate for the sport, Baughman said, though a damaged boardwalk on Trail 2 prevents making a round trip. The boardwalk is slated to be repaired this spring and summer.

Cross-country skiing also is allowed on other trails at the state park, but they pose trickier courses, Baughman said. All trails remain open to winter hiking.

More than five miles of cross-country skiing trails also are available at Sunset Hill Farm County Park between Chesterton and Valparaiso, according to Porter County Park Superintendent Walter Lenckos.

"There's some topography, especially for cross-country skiing that makes it challenging at times," he said.

The park is also a great place experience snow shoeing, he said. Snow shoes of all sizes are available for loan at the naturalist office.

"You don't post hole nearly as much," he said of the benefits of wearing snow shoes.

Cross-country skiing and snow hiking also are welcome on the mile and half of trails at Brincka Cross Gardens in Pine Township, Lenckos said.

All four of the LaPorte County parks have trails that accommodate cross-country skiing, according to the park department.

Luhr Park reportedly offers flat terrain for beginners and Bluhm Park offers hilly terrain and is great for intermediate skiers.

"We don’t groom the trails but you can blaze your own," according to the department's website.

Cross-county skiers are welcome at any of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore sites, Rowe said. One that is particularly popular and well suited for the sport is the Glenwood Dunes Trails near Chesterton.

Those visiting the park's Visitor Center along Ind. 49 in Porter can give snow shoes a try during ranger-led walks from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 14 and 28 and Feb. 3, 11 and 17, Rowe said.

The free opportunity is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, he said.

Skating and more

LaPorte County's four dog parks are also popular during the winter months, according to the department. Registration and permits are required for each dog.

Another traditional winter sport is ice skating and the Lake County Parks Department offers a safe and fun option at the Deep River Water Park, Trisler said.

"It's a nice little loop," she said. "You kind of feel like you're going somewhere."

The skating site is open from noon to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, and noon to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Trisler said.

Skating also is offered at the William E. Urschel Pavilion at Central Park Plaza in Valparaiso. See the park department website for hours and details.

While Lake Michigan is no place to go ice skating during the winter months, a hike along the lakeshore is impressive if done safely.

Visitors should never venture out on the ice, Baughman said.

"It's a bunch of ice that's been shoved together," he said. "You don't know what's beneath you."

The recent stretch of frigid air could wind up offering visitors a unique view of ice on Lake Michigan all the way out to the horizon, Rowe said.

"It's like looking at the arctic almost," he said.

National, state, county and local parks remain open during the winter months for exploring and for special programs.

Ranger-led hikes are being offered this winter at Mt. Baldy near Michigan City, which was closed four years ago after a 6-year-old boy was swallowed up by a hole created in the sand from a rotting tree, Rowe said.

Hikes are offered from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 21 and Feb. 10, he said.


Porter/LaPorte county reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.