Save the Dunes Issues Statement on State Park Pavilion Renovation and Expansion

pavilionSave the Dunes has been monitoring the proposed renovation and expansion of the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion project. Our official position at this time is described below.

Indiana State Parks has also provided this Frequently Asked Questions document to provide the public with additional details.

Statement from Board of Directors and Executive Director Regarding the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion Renovation and Expansion

The proposed renovation and expansion of the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion is certainly sparking extensive discussion locally and beyond. The Board of Directors and Executive Director of Save the Dunes have been monitoring the project carefully since its inception. As a prominent regional nonprofit keenly focused on the vitality and use of our Indiana dunes, we must comment on the project. However, we have decided to wait to take a formal position on the project until after the public meeting on Monday, April 6.

While we reserve the right to oppose the project, of course, we feel strongly that we want to engage in community conversations about how to balance public enjoyment with protection of the ecosystem first. This has always been our struggle, and we must be thoughtful in our approach.

From our perspective, the greatest concern for the Indiana dunes ecosystem right now is the inflow of invasive species that are displacing the native biodiversity that made this park worthy of preservation in the first place. We are hard at work trying to route resources to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park to help them combat these stressors and expand the acres they can manage and protect. An example is the Black Oak Savanna Restoration Project, which is happening right now in both parks. Nearly all of the black oak savanna is gone from the Midwest, and some of the best remaining examples are in these two parks. Save the Dunes worked hard to secure $1 million through a settlement project and direct it towards restoration of 1,077 acres of this globally-imperiled habitat. We may be losing the Karner blue butterfly, a federally endangered species that depends on oak savanna habitat, because our parks lack adequate resources to effectively manage these areas. This project is not only critical but timely.

We bring this project up as an example because the real, immediate threats to the Indiana dunes ecosystem are not in previously disturbed areas that currently have concrete over them at the beachfront. We also owe it to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to at least listen to their plans for this public-private partnership, as it could bring critical resources to sustain the dunes ecosystem.

That being said, we find it unacceptable that the DNR has not provided sufficient public stakeholder input as they worked with a private partner to develop conceptual and preliminary drawings. They should have honored the community’s deep connection to the Pavilion – and to the State Park as a whole – by calling for public input before putting pen to paper months ago. As a result of skipping this step, many people are understandably frustrated with the lack of transparency in the process.

We are not opposed to the idea of renovating and/or expanding the Pavilion in principle, within reason. However, we believe that any changes at the site must be considered thoughtfully with robust public involvement. As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently put it, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” This is our moment in time to shape what this site will be for the next century, and we must do it together smartly.

Here are our top five concerns at this time. We ask the DNR to provide detailed answers for each of these at the meeting on April 6.

1) DNR must ensure that the public retains the right to access the beach, building and parking areas as they do today.

2) DNR must retain ownership of the structure and any additions. The site must not transfer into private ownership.

3) We must prevent encroachment on the dunes ecosystem during and after construction.

4) The structure itself must not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also energy efficient, smartly designed to protect the dunes ecosystem and wildlife (particularly birds) and also prevent light pollution.

5) The design process must be transparent and must include stakeholder input before, during and after completion.

The team at Save the Dunes looks forward to sharing our official position after the April 6 meeting.

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