INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate believes Hoosiers are entitled to continue using the Lake Michigan shoreline for a variety of recreational purposes, just as they have for more than a hundred years.
Senators voted 32-16 Monday to approve a list of specific activities permitted on the beach, following a 2018 Indiana Supreme Court ruling that clarified the state-owned portion of the shoreline but left decisions about what's allowed there up to the General Assembly.
Under Senate Bill 553, sponsored by state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, visitors would be permitted to fish, boat, swim, wade, walk, run, sit, recline, picnic, sunbathe, bird watch, toss a ball or disc, play sports or engage in any similar or related shore activities.
"It is my intention in this bill to define recreation as broadly as possible so Hoosiers can continue using the beaches in the same way they have been used for the past century," Tallian said.
Tallian also pointed out that the measure ensures Northwest Indiana tourism, much of which is focused on lakefront activities, will continue drawing millions of visitors to the Region and the state every year.
None of the 16 senators who opposed the measure, all Republicans, spoke during Senate debate on Tallian's proposal.
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Several privately appeared to sympathize with lakefront homeowners in Long Beach who tried to claim ownership of the beach to the water's edge, and unsuccessfully pursued that argument all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation's high court last week refused to hear their appeal. As a result, the Indiana Supreme Court ruling that the Lake Michigan shoreline, up to the ordinary high water mark, is owned by the state and held in trust for all Hoosiers, is the final word on the matter.
The high water mark, essentially the edge of the beach, is defined as the line on the shore established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics, such as a clear and natural line on the bank, shelving or changes in the soil's character.
"With the U.S. Supreme Court keeping the Indiana ruling in place, this bill is the next logical step to solidifying Hoosiers' access to the shoreline and the ability to take part in the activities they enjoy," Tallian said.
The measure now goes to the House.