Region beach users, our burgeoning lakefront tourism industry and all lovers of free Lake Michigan access won a key victory in an Indiana Supreme Court ruling earlier this week.
In the 4-0 ruling, the state's high court held that the lakeshore is open to all and not subject to restrictions of private landowners whose property is contiguous with this great Northwest Indiana natural wonder.
While we, and likely every Region lover of Lake Michigan beach access, laud the ruling, we also remind beach users to remain respectful of the private landowners when using this great gift.
The Indiana Supreme Court's Wednesday ruling definitively sets the ordinary high water mark as the boundary between the state-owned public lakeshore and the interests of private property owners.
Though there are some specifics to that definition, it essentially opens the beachfront immediately contiguous with the water to public use.
Within that area, the public is allowed to access the water for traditional purposes of swimming, navigation, commerce or fishing.
The court also ruled that, at a minimum, walking on those stretches of beach is protected public use.
The ruling also rightly leaves "any enlargement of public rights" to the beaches up to state lawmakers.
In the end, the decision settles a longstanding dispute that threatened to limit public access to the lake and associated tourism.
While the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, it's a solid step in the right direction for Hoosier beach access.
In taking advantage of this freedom, we all must be mindful of being good public neighbors to the private landowners who border these stretches of beach.
Keeping these areas clean, not tramping through private property to access public land and generally being respectful are important considerations.
It's an inherent responsibility attached to a public right.