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Explore America’s Newest ‘Indiana Dunes National Park’ on the Shore of Lake Michigan

America’s National Parks System includes more than 400 parks, monuments, conservation areas and historic sites

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America’s National Parks System includes more than 400 parks, monuments, conservation areas and historic sites. VOA

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore attracts more than 3.6 million visitors every year, but that number is expected to grow because the 6,000-hectare site on the shore of Lake Michigan is now Indiana Dunes National Park — the country’s newest.

America’s National Parks System includes more than 400 parks, monuments, conservation areas and historic sites. The federal agency — established in 1916 — is constantly changing. The 26 parks it originally managed have been removed from its list of properties. Some, like Michigan’s Mackinac Island Park, were transferred to state holdings, and others, including South Carolina’s Castle Pinckney Monument, were found to be too expensive to maintain.

Although President Donald Trump drastically reduced the size of one park — Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument — four parks have been created since he’s been in office. The Dunes became the 61st national park in February.

Among the first to visit after its designation changed were Bill and Betty Smith from Connecticut, who have visited the 60 other national parks.

“What I want to see are predominantly the sand dunes. I think that’s probably the standout feature of this new national park,” Bill Smith said, adding, “I want to see some of the trail systems. I just want to get a sense of the place.”

Over a century in the making

The newest national park may be the one that took the longest to get that designation, said park superintendent Paul Labovitz. “The name change here was 103 years in the making. The Indiana Sand Dunes National Park was proposed in 1916 by the first director of the national parks, Stephen Mather.”

But World War I and the need for steel mills on the lakefront to feed the war effort sidelined plans for the park. Later efforts to get the national park designation were squashed by industrialization of the neighboring Port of Indiana, the largest commercial port on Lake Michigan.

Still, nature and the dunes found a way to thrive.

In 2017 and 2018, Indiana lawmakers again presented the park legislation to Congress, but no action was taken.

Lorelei Weimer, the park’s executive director of tourism, said it took the historic government shutdown of 2019 to bring about the change. Due to the rushed nature of a several-hundred-page appropriations bill to fund the budget and reopen the government, an Indiana congressman was able to slip the park measure into the new legislation.

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Lake Michigan as seen from the sand dunes of Indiana Dunes State Park in September 2016. Wikimedia

“The fact that he was able to get it into the budget bill was a huge win for us,” Weimer said. “None of us knew that was going to happen. That was one of the biggest pleasant surprises that we’ve had.”

The designation doesn’t come with any regulatory or funding changes, but it does give the Dunes a status similar to the other big national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Dunes, wetlands, forest, prairie

Indiana Dunes National Park has a varied landscape — most prominently, the massive sand dunes that can tower 58 meters above the beach, and migrate more than a meter a year.

The park has a 26-kilometer-long shoreline along a lake that can produce waves eight meters high. Fourteen trail systems covering 80 kilometers wind through the park through its different habitats and cultural history.

Labovitz said the park is also known as one of the most ecologically diverse places in North America, with more species of plants than the state of Hawaii.

“There are upwards of 1,500 different species of plants found here. The numbers are impressive, but the kinds of plants are even more interesting. The Dunes is a place where the Artic meets the Temperate Forest, where the Eastern Deciduous Forest meets the prairie. So, all of the plants that are common or that grow in those places are found here.”

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Among the first to visit after its designation changed were Bill and Betty Smith from Connecticut, who have visited the 60 other national parks. Wikimedia

Because the Dunes are on a major migratory path, they are also home to more than 300 species of birds, including waterbirds such as loons and herons, birds of prey such as hawks and bald eagles, and a wide variety of songbirds.

That attracts visitors from every U.S. state and approximately 50 countries across the world every year.

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“We have so many international visitors that we have 12 different little mini guides that we have translated into different languages,” Weimer said. “That just gives you a good idea that this is not just a local attraction. It’s an international attraction.”

It’s also a uniquely American attraction, according to Bill Smith.

“There’s always something special about a national park. It’s beautiful, it’s unique. They’re precious in terms of natural resources, the natural beauty, the wildlife. And so, it’s just a part of exploring this great country.” (VOA)

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Bardiya National Park in Nepal Using Mobile App for Conservation of One-Horned Rhinos

In the past, the park used the satellite-GPS collar on the rhinos in the Babai valley to enhance the monitoring of the endangered animals

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According to park officials, the app will help receive vital information about rhinos, including their photographs by using smartphones. It has been named "smart patrol", The Kathmandu Post reported. Flickr

The Bardiya National Park in Nepal has started using a mobile app for the conservation of one-horned rhinos.

According to park officials, the app will help receive vital information about rhinos, including their photographs by using smartphones. It has been named “smart patrol”, The Kathmandu Post reported.

In the past, the park used the satellite-GPS collar on the rhinos in the Babai valley to enhance the monitoring of the endangered animals. But that technology was useless now.

Ananath Baral, chief conservation officer of the park, said that satellite-GPS collars were not working on the rhinos in the Babai valley.

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The Bardiya National Park in Nepal has started using a mobile app for the conservation of one-horned rhinos. Flickr

“The satellite-GPS collars do not provide information now. They might have been damaged or lost,” said Baral, adding that the details will be known after they start a census of the animals this fiscal year.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, National Trust for Nature Conservation, WWF Nepal and local communities have been involved in satellite tracking of endangered wildlife, including rhinos and tigers in the park.

In 2016 and 2017, eight rhinos which were translocated from Chitwan National Park to Bardiya National Park, were successfully collared with radio transmitters. As per the record of the park, there were only six rhinos in the Babai valley.

One of them died of natural causes, said Baral.

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According to the 2015 count, Nepal is home to 645 rhinos — 605 in Chitwan, 29 in Bardia, eight in Shuklaphanta and three in Parsa.

The number of rhinos, which fell sharply in the 1950s and 60s, started to rebound after the establishment of the Chitwan sanctuary in 1973. (IANS)