INDIANAPOLIS — The Trump administration is opposing a bipartisan plan pending in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to re-designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a national park.
P. Daniel Smith, acting director of the National Park Service, told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees national parks, "does not support" turning the National Lakeshore into a national park.
Smith initially did not detail why the Republican administration is against the change that already won unanimous approval last November as House Bill 1488 in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.
He simply listed Senate Bill 599, the companion measure co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., among nine proposals the park service would prefer not advance out of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks.
In written testimony, Smith later said the department prefers the term "national park" be reserved for units that contain a variety of resources and encompass large land or water areas.
"Indiana Dunes has more in common with the other Great Lakes national lakeshores — Apostle Islands, Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes — and with the National Park System's many other national seashores and national recreation areas, than with most national parks," he said.
However, that standard is not absolute. The nation's newest national park — Gateway Arch in St. Louis — was established in February and contains 193 acres, compared to the more than 15,000 acres at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
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Smith explained that even though the administration opposes establishing America's 61st national park in Indiana, it does not object to a provision in the House legislation renaming the 1.6-mile Miller Woods Trail at the Dunes in honor of U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas, D-Ill., who helped establish the National Lakeshore in 1966.
Following the hearing, Donnelly said he remains hopeful the legislation to make the Dunes a national park still will be taken up and approved by the Senate, notwithstanding the administration's resistance.
"The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a cherished natural resource in our state, and I believe it deserves the recognition of national park status," Donnelly said.
Young spokesman Jay Kenworthy said the GOP senator was disappointed to learn of the administration's opposition.
"He has reached out for more clarity on the position and will work with the administration to address any concerns they may have," Kenworthy said.
While the National Lakeshore already is operated by the National Park Service, supporters of designating the Dunes as a national park say the change would draw significantly more visitors to the lakeshore's beaches, wetlands, savannahs, sand dunes, hiking trails and recreational facilities, as well as Northwest Indiana hotels and businesses.