Indiana Dunes
Administrative History
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The people of the mills, the shops, and the stores are the backbone of the great cities. They are the producers of wealth and the human species; and the opportunity for those people to get the full value of the out of doors is made almost impossible. The great national reservations of the West are beyond their reach and the parks of the cities, valuable as they are, do not possess the wild beauty of the master's hand nor do they inspire the soul in the same degree. . . . The Dunes of Northern Indiana are almost within a stone's throw of perhaps one of the greatest industrial communities of the world. It is the only landscape of its kind within reach of the millions that need its softening influence for the restoration of their souls and the balance of their minds.

Jens Jensen, arguing for the establishment of a Sand Dunes National Park in 1916.


Chapter One, "The Early Years," discusses the historic settlement of Indiana's dunelands, the ecological discoveries of Henry Cowles, and the initial dunes preservation efforts of Chicago—based groups such as the Prairie Club. By 1916, dunes enthusiasts united under the National Dunes Park Association (NDPA) to advocate the establishment of a Sand Dunes National Park. One of their fellow conservationists and Prairie Club members, Stephen Tyng Mather, was in a powerful position to help. Mather, the first Director of the newly authorized National Park Service, led the park movement by examining the Indiana Dunes as the Service's first new area proposal. Unfortunately, World War I and its aftermath created new national goals and Mather and the NDPA turned to Richard Lieber, father of the Indiana State Park System, to preserve the dunes. Assisted by NDPA officer Bess Sheehan, Lieber successfully lobbied the Indiana Legislature to authorize the Indiana Dunes State Park in 1923. Three years later, the state park's new bathhouse opened and soon the facility became one of the most popular in Indiana.

Chapter Two, "Taking Aim in the 1950s," elaborates on Dorothy Buell's 1952 founding of the Save the Dunes Council in response to mounting development pressures which threatened to engulf the fragile dunelands. The paramount threat was the State of Indiana's long—sought goal of building a deepwater port on its small section of lakeshore. When the small citizens group was unsuccessful in converting a single member of the Indiana political establishment to save the dunes for a park, it turned to Senator Paul H. Douglas in neighboring Illinois. Douglas agreed to lead the effort and introduced legislation in 1958 for an Indiana Dunes National Monument. The Save the Dunes Council volunteers faithfully assisted Senator Douglas by providing vital information as well as finding flaws in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports which advocated placing the proposed Port of Indiana in the heart of the Central Dunes—the keystone of the park initiative. Concurrent with these events was the National Park Service's Great Lakes Survey (1957—1958) led by Allen T. Edmunds. The Survey identified potential new units along the Great Lakes shoreline for Federal and State recreational areas. Not surprisingly, Indiana Dunes rated high for national park status.

Chapter Three, "Port Versus Park," records the period from 1960 to 1963 in which the struggle reached loggerheads. Variations in the legislation called for an "Indiana Dunes National Scientific Landmark" as well as various combinations of parcels in an effort to make the project more palatable to Indiana. A breakthrough came in 1961 when Congress authorized Cape Cod National Seashore. Not only did the Cape Cod bill set the Federal precedent of purchasing natural parkland, but it was an area beloved by President John F. Kennedy, a fact which Paul H. Douglas exploited to draw sympathetic parallels to the Indiana Dunes. President Kennedy orchestrated what became called the "Kennedy Compromise" in which the administration favored both a port and a park in the Indiana Dunes. One formidable opponent was House Minority Leader Charles Halleck whose district encompassed the dunes. Kennedy's assassination sent the bitter ballgame into extra innings.

Chapter Four, "Authorization of an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 1965—1966," elaborates on President Lyndon B. Johnson's support and the slow progress of the Indiana Dunes legislation. While urban parks were a natural component of Johnson's Great Society, the movement was hampered by the confusing array of bills. In January 1966, the Department of the Interior's proposal advocated a twelve—unit national lakeshore of nearly 9,000 acres. In a masterful bit of parliamentary manuevering, a dunes park bill finally passed through Congress and on to Lyndon Johnson's desk. The bill Johnson signed on November 5, 1966, authorized a park of 8,100 acres (including the State Park)—a considerable difference from the original proposal of 11,700 acres. Although the Park Service's Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia immediately dispatched a master planning team, Congress failed to appropriate funds for land acquisition and staffing. At the same time, Paul Douglas lost his bid for reelection, thus silencing the strongest dunes—saver in Congress. Because Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was a park on paper only and threatened by hostile interests, the Save the Dunes Council resolved to remain in business to protect its hard—won prize.

Chapter Five, "The Tug of War Continues, 1967—1968," relates how efforts to get land acquisition and staffing appropriations bore fruit when the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Land Acquisition Office opened in June 1968. Conservationists were alarmed when the National Park Service failed publicly to silence efforts by the local railroad to build a freight marshaling yard on national lakeshore authorized lands. Instead, the Park Service's director cunningly ordered the purchase of properties along the proposed transportation corridor in order to thwart the railroad's plan. At the same time, the Northeast Regional Office continued to seek a compromise in the form of a scaled—down facility. The railroad eventually withdrew its proposal. Unaware of the behind—the—scenes manuevering and angered by the bureau's public stance, the Save the Dunes Council regarded the Park Service's motives with suspicion. Simultaneously, the Service opened a field branch of its Philadelphia Regional Office in East Lansing, Michigan, principally to oversee Indiana Dunes as well as the Apostle Islands and Sleeping Bear Dunes park proposals. Allen T. Edmunds led this Great Lakes Area Field Office and masterfully put out fires such as adverse zoning changes and presented Service policies and goals before innumerable public meetings.

Chapter Six, "A National Park Service Presence at Indiana Dunes, 1969—1971," discusses land acquisition progress as well as the disturbing absence of development funds. In 1969, Darwin E. Williams arrived as Management Assistant to supervise four seasonal rangers during the first summer visitation season at West Beach. While the local opposition became less vociferous as land acquisition accelerated, Williams initiated a vigorous building demolition and removal program. In 1970, a small permanent staff began to come on board. In October, James R. Whitehouse became the national lakeshore's first superintendent. Whitehouse, who had never served as a superintendent and whose career included positions with the Jobs Corps, was not the traditional, so—called "National Park Service professional" dedicated to "toeing the party line." Whitehouse deftly walked the Indiana Dunes tightrope and worked closely with conservation groups as well as industry. Progress continued as the park staff moved into a headquarters and visitor center in a former church building. Whitehouse sought a declaration of taking for the historic Bailly Homestead and helped secure the first development funding for West Beach.

At the national level, the Nixon administration launched its "Parks to the People" program, but this generosity did not extend to Indiana Dunes, especially when Rogers C. B. Morton's appointment as Secretary of the Interior led to a feeble effort to deauthorize Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Within the National Park Service's Washington and Northeast Regional Offices there was a pervasive laissez—faire attitude toward the new national lakeshore. The Save the Dunes Council and other conservation groups only intensified efforts to secure development funding and turned to friends in Congress like Sidney Yates (Democrat—Illinois) on the Interior Appropriations Committee to get results.

In Congress, the first of many lakeshore expansion bills floated, signaling the Save the Dunes Council's intention to double the size of the park and regain parcels deleted from bills a decade previously. Predictably, the State and business community denounced it as an effort to choke—off both the Port of Indiana and lakeshore industries. To most observers, it seemed the battle over the dunes would never end.

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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2003