After more than 100 years of trying, Indiana has its first national park.
On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an omnibus spending bill that, among many measures, included changing the name from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park.
The change was part of a several hundred page appropriations bill that also included funding for the controversial border wall pushed by the president.
“This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders,” U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, a Democrat representing Indiana’s 1st District, said in a statement.
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The name change doesn’t necessarily come with extra funding or protection for the area, but it will help raise the Dunes’ profile, said Bruce Rowe, public information officer for the Indiana Dunes.
“We’re absolutely elated. We have this incredible natural resource that not that many people know about. This can get us some recognition for that natural resource,” Rowe said.
Before the name change, the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore was one of 418 “national park units.” Now it is part of an elite group of 61 parks across the country that Americans make lifelong commitments to visit.
National Parks Service officials in Washington, D.C., previously opposed such a renaming, but Rowe said he and his colleagues in Indiana were celebrating the change.
The area is comprised of about 15,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands and the titular dunes. Its beaches run along about 15 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline. “This designation is long overdue and will be a significant benefit to northwest Indiana and a benefit the entire Midwest region,” said Dustin Ritchea, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism.
The Indiana Dunes received 3.6 million visitors last year, and combined with the Indiana Dunes State Park, the destination ranks just below Yellowstone National Park for visitors, Ritchea said. It also brings $476 million to Porter County each year.
“The power and visibility of the national park classification could result in visitors and thereby boost northwest Indiana’s economy,” said Sen. Todd Young. “It’s also a source of great pride, and it should be to all Hoosiers as well.”
Efforts to make the area a national park date back to 1916, when Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, began advocating for the creation of the “Sand Dunes National Park,” Rowe said.
Those efforts, while widely supported, were derailed by the start of World War I. Indiana Dunes State Park was established in 1926. In 1966, it gained protection from the National Park Service when it was designated as a national lakeshore, which gave it the same protections as a national park but not the fame.
Since then there have been repeated efforts by lawmakers and organizations like Save the Dunes to make the Dunes a national park. Most recently, Visclosky introduced a bill in 2017 that would effect the change.
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Then-Sen. Joe Donnelly introduced similar legislation into the Senate that same year. Visclosky’s legislation passed out of the U.S. House but died in a Senate subcommittee in August 2018.
Visclosky and Republican Senators Young and Mike Braun introduced identical legislation in January. The provision was ultimately tacked onto a House appropriations bill.
The Indiana Dunes are considered one of the most biodiverse areas in North America, with more plant and animal species than the entire state of Hawaii, Ritchea said. It’s also considered the birthplace of ecology as the subject of research by botanist Henry C. Cowles.
With this designation, Indiana joins 27 other states that have national parks within their borders.
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