Indiana Dunes
Administrative History
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You know before you got there that I was about the only one who had faith in the Dunes and if you had failed, I would have, too. Your success proved me correct and for that I really appreciate your work even more than many others.

Former Northeast Associate Regional Director George A. Palmer, on the occasion of J. R. Whitehouse's retirement. [1]


Few can dispute that the history of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is steeped in perpetual political manuevering or that the lakeshore's initial base of support came from the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, this is not to denigrate the important contributions of Republicans like Pennsylvania's John Saylor who was instrumental in getting the 1966 bill out of committee and through the House of Representatives. Two Republicans who voted against the 1966 bill and later acted to benefit the national lakeshore were Congressmen Rogers C. B. Morton of Maryland and Gerald R. Ford of Michigan. As Secretary of the Interior in 1971, Morton sanctioned a deauthorization effort. True to the fickle winds of national politics, Secretary Morton himself appeared as the keynote speaker along with President Nixon's eldest daughter at the September 8, 1972, dedication ceremony. The well—orchestrated media event saw Secretary Morton hailing Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as one of the "crown jewels" of the President's "Parks to the People" program. Gerald Ford, succeeding to the presidency following Nixon's resignation, found himself coaxed out of exercising the pocket veto on expanding Indiana Dunes' torturous boundaries by overwhelming Senate support in the aftermath of Paul Douglas' death.

Park management agonized to demonstrate progress. A prevalent negative public comment was that the Federal park had been around for a decade and there was nothing to show for it but controversy and more controversy. By the mid—1970s, National Park Service staff grew and initiated new environmental education and interpretive programs. Purchased homes were no longer simply demolished or removed and the sites allowed to revert to nature. Many became picnic areas. Trails proliferated. Beach access and parking improved. As evidence of the national park's presence increased, hardened public attitudes began to thaw. A series of festivals at the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm fostered a new sense of community and began to heal long—festering wounds.

Much of the credit for accomplishing work—intensive projects belongs to youth—oriented public works programs such as the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) and the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC). These programs accomplished tasks which the national lakeshore did not have the manpower to perform. Without the YACC, the Lakeshore could not have gained an immediate foothold at the Bailly Administrative Area.

As with anything involving human efforts, mistakes were made. To the agency's consternation, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore simply did not fit into any of the traditional molds for a national park. Indiana Dunes had its own unique set of problems. It bore little similarity to the two Gateway national recreation areas in New York and San Francisco. Perhaps the best example of trying to impose "Gateway" values came in 1973 with the unveiling of the West Beach Development Concept Plan which proposed a voluminous recreational complex incompatible with the lakeshore's resources. The Service took its lumps and learned from its embarrassing blunder. Public involvement in the development planning process subsequently became a keystone of Park Service operations. The lessons learned at places like Indiana Dunes have earned the Service an excellent reputation for coordinating complex, intergovernmental planning efforts.

Superintendent James R. Whitehouse maintained good relations with groups throughout the community and region. He effectively utilized the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Advisory Commission and its diverse membership to keep informed of developments in State and local governments. With his vast array of contacts, Whitehouse was often able to checkmate potential threats to the national lakeshore. Because Whitehouse frequently worked behind the scenes to achieve results he sometimes was accused of not acting in earnest to protect the park. Many people did not appreciate the fact that the National Park Service was one of many Federal agencies operating under specific laws and regulations. When an industry or local government also functioned according to law, there was little that could be done to resolve conflicts. Behind—the—scenes actions, however, sometimes resulted in the denial of necessary construction permits.

The foremost threat to the national lakeshore was NIPSCO's construction of the Bailly I nuclear power plant. NIPSCO proposed to mitigate dewatering of Cowles Bog National Natural Landmark by building a slurry wall to isolate the bog from the massive nuclear plant and its fly ash ponds. The lakeshore staff worked with the Save the Dunes Council and Congressman Sidney Yates to obtain a Science Office to study this as well as other resource management threats. While the inter—governmental fight against Bailly I took place at the national level, no one could deny that the local park staff adamantly opposed Bailly I. A vivid portrayal of this came in the form of a Chicago Tribune photograph of uniformed Assistant Superintendent Don Castleberry pointing to the gaping hole of the nuclear site and declaring, "We can't allow this to happen in our National Park!"

With successful bills in 1976, 1980, and 1986, lakeshore boundary expansion remained a constant topic of debate. Local park management hosted several Congressional committees investigating a long list of proposed additions. Whitehouse and his staff provided tours and briefings and elaborated on the pros and cons of managing specific proposed parcels. Unlike with Bailly I, they acted in a non—advocacy role, never crossing the line of becoming proponents or opponents of any bill. So important was the situation that the Washington Office designated its own project keyman for Indiana Dunes. [2] One individual who worked in the Washington Office's Office of Legislation asserted that no other unit represented more complexity or challenge than did Indiana Dunes. [3]

President Ronald Reagan's appointment of James G. Watt as Secretary of the Interior brought into policy—making positions individuals who espoused anti—big government and a lack of sympathy for environmental concerns. Based on an aborted effort to deauthorize Indiana Dunes and several other parks, conservationists feared that the Reagan philosophy might eventually doom the National Park System itself. This alarmist outlook has proven to be unfounded. During the Reagan years, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore continued to make steady, albeit slow, progress.

Chapter Seven, "Politics and Parks," summarizes the events of 1972 and details the rapid chain of events leading up to the sudden dedication ceremony organized by the Committee to Re—Elect the President. This came after months of prodding by the Advisory Commission which requested the event in order to alleviate the community's concern that the Nixon Administration did not support Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Chapter Eight, "Growing Pains, 1973—1976," relates the slow progress of developments capped by construction beginning at West Beach in 1975. The same year the Service began negotiations with the U.S. Army to acquire its NIKE missile base for use as the lakeshore's headquarters. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nat Reed put his job on the line by his insistence upon testifying against Bailly I. While Reed was unsuccessful in convincing the Department to become a joint intervenor, Reed's unequivocal stance ended the administration's "lukewarm attitude" and disspelled the "Democratic park" concept. The brouhaha over West Beach development caused the Service to reevaluate and change its "planning in a vaccuum" practice. On expansion, Nat Reed expressed his intent to sanction only "reasonable" expansion and not to play "catch up" with the missed opportunities of the early 1960s. In 1976, President Ford finally approved a bill adding more than 3,700 acres.

In Chapter Nine, "Coming of Age, 1977—1979," the staff doubled while facilities tripled. YCC and YACC activities began as did a concerted effort to combat off—road vehicle (ORV) usage in newly added areas. The West Beach bathhouse dedication also took place symbolizing the first (and only) principal recreational development. The Science Office came on—line while the Coronado Lodge closed by order of the State Fire Marshal. In 1979, headquarters relocated to the Bailly Administrative Area, the former NIKE base, thus providing a central, expansive facility from which to operate the extensive lakeshore. With the change to a Democratic administration, a more vigorous stance to seek mitigation of threats was taken against Bailly Nuclear I, at the same time the Bailly Alliance formed against the nuclear project. The Department largely imposed an agreement on the utility company to seal the fly ash basins connected to its extant Bailly generating station.

Chapter Ten, "The Great Turning Point, 1980," reveals the watershed year in Indiana Dunes' history with the completion of the General Management Plan. The three—year effort culminated in a blueprint for future management and development of the national lakeshore. The year also saw the passage of the second expansion bill, but only after its primary areas were deleted for being too controversial. With less than five hundred acres added, Congress seemed to be indicating, as one staff member claimed, that it was "sick and tired" of the expansion issue.

Chapter Eleven, "Reaganomics or Retrenchment?," discusses the first three years of the new administration with James G. Watt at the Interior Department helm. At the park level, Dale Engquist succeeded J. R. Whitehouse as superintendent following intensive lobbying by the park and regional community, while austerity measures were instituted in the name of "Management Efficiency." During the first months of the Watt tenure, conservationists rallied to defeat a deauthorization effort. Subsequently, land acquisition files were audited, but no improprieties were found; visitation counting was investigated following charges of inflating figures which were later shown to have been unfounded; and Land Protection Plans were mandated which explored alternatives to land acquisition. Bailly I went down to defeat in late 1981 when NIPSCO pulled the plug after conceding that innumerable delays had raised costs to a prohibitive level.

Chapter Twelve, "The Singing Sands of Indiana Dunes," brings the study to 1987 with yet another expansion bill seeking to "round out" the national lakeshore's peculiar boundaries. It is a testimony to a dedicated staff performing increased services in a time of budget cuts and personnel ceilings with assistance from the private sector—a lively Volunteers In Parks program and its outgrowth, a nonprofit corporation called Friends of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The period also saw the termination of the Advisory Commission and the construction of the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education, a facility designed with input from school children.

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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2003