Buses fueled by propane

Dunes Learning Center and its partners on Friday unveiled a new propane-powered school bus for use in transporting students participating in its environmental education programs.

PORTER — To help celebrate its 20th year, Dunes Learning Center now has its own environmentally friendly bus for transporting school children on trips to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The 72-passenger bus and two 16-passenger shuttle buses already on the grounds run on cleaner-burning propane.

The $91,500 bus with just 3,000 miles was originally yellow and intended for use in the schools.

Until now, a provider in Gary was paid to take kids in school groups and summer camps to and from the facility in one and sometimes two 50 seat passenger buses, said Geof Benson, executive director of the Dunes Learning Center.

The rental buses running on diesel fuel after showing up left then later returned to take the children back.

Dunes Learning Center will use the new bus not just to bring kids in and out but take them to different areas of the lakeshore during their stay.

Presently, the shuttle buses owned by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are enough for smaller group transports within the park.

"When we have 70 campers and we need to get them to West Beach for a beach party or to Cowles Bog for a hike, we’re able to do that,’’ Benson said.

About 5,000 students as far away as Chicago and Fort Wayne come to Dunes Learning Center for outdoor environmental education programs annually.

The purchase was made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Regional Development Authority.

Benson said the remaining $20,000 came from individual donors and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

South Shore Clean Cities contributed by writing the grant application, said Dave Wellman, the RDA communications manager.

Wellman said RDA since its inception more than a decade ago has invested about $230 million in various projects along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

"This is just one very small part of that,’’ he said.