Partners Celebrate East Branch of the Little Calumet River Opening

*Due to inclement weather, the ribbon cutting event will now take place on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 1:30pm*

The East Branch of the Little Calumet River is one of Northwest Indiana’s invaluable natural resources, providing habitat for aquatic wildlife and picturesque views for hikers on nearby trails. Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the National Park Service, Student Conservation Association, and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association are working to restore habitat and improve access along the river corridor. A ribbon-cutting event is scheduled for Saturday, October 7 to celebrate a newly re-opened water trail with paddling beginning at Calumet Road in Chesterton and ending at Howe Road in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. While canoe/kayak launch hardscapes will not be installed until the end of 2017, the partners are hosting the event as part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s Outdoor Adventure Festival. For information and to register, visit the Festival’s Eventbrite page.

The East Branch of the Little Calumet River runs from Red Mill County Park in LaPorte to Portage, where it flows into Lake Michigan through Burns Waterway. This more than 20-mile stretch of river runs through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore sites such as the Heron Rookery and the Bailly Homestead as well as a number of town and county parks and Shirley Heinze Land Trust nature preserves.

Paddlers, anglers, and other recreational enthusiasts have long-awaited improved access to the East Branch of the Little Calumet River. However, before many stretches of the river could be opened for recreational use, the National Park Service needed to conduct an Environmental Assessment to ensure that increased recreational use of the river would not threaten the health of the river or surrounding natural resources. Completed in July of this year, the Environmental Assessment found that increased passive recreational use of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River would cause no significant impact to the river.

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Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, praises strong partnerships for the progress on increasing recreation along the river corridor. “The opening of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River is the culmination of decades of vision, now reality. Partners made the impossible happen. This new public recreation resource will change how our neighbors and visitors look at our National Park,” says Labovitz.

Through funding from the Chi Cal Rivers Fund, Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the National Park Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association are working to restore habitat and improve access along the river corridor from Shirley Heinze Land Trust’s Dale B. Engquist Nature Preserve located in Pine Township adjacent to the Heron Rookery, westward to Lake Michigan. Through this project, the river has been opened from Brummitt Road in Chesterton to Mnoke Prairie in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with plans to continue river opening activities in 2018 to State Road 149.

Natalie Johnson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes explains, “While the river can be enjoyed from a few hiking trails, awareness of and access to those trails is limited and the river has been inaccessible for other forms of recreation such as paddling and angling for years. We want to give residents and visitors of Northwest Indiana an opportunity to experience and appreciate the river and inspire them to be stewards of it.”

The Northwest Indiana Paddling Association noted “Significant logjams had developed throughout the river since last maintenance operations had ceased nearly 30 years ago, compounded by a 2009 tornado event, making it nearly impossible to navigate by canoe or kayak. The collaborative project has so far opened eight previously inaccessible miles of the river for paddling using the Palmiter Method of modifying woody debris obstructions, which causes fewer disturbances to aquatic ecosystems and leaves portions of logjams intact for habitat.”

In addition to reducing logjams in the river, the partners also want to increase access into the river. At this time, there is not a single formally developed canoe/kayak launch along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River. Through this project, Shirley Heinze Land Trust will be installing two canoe/kayak launches on their sites along the river – the Keith Richard Walner Nature Preserve in Porter, and the Wykes-Plampin Nature Preserve in Westchester Township. Hiking trails, interpretive signage, and small parking areas will also be installed at these sites to allow for more recreational use and appreciation of the river. Shirley Heinze Land Trust has protected approximately 400 acres along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River corridor.

“Unprecedented progress has been made when it comes to providing public access as well as habitat restoration and land preservation along the river corridor. This is a direct result of what happens when partners come together to collectively achieve a visionary and ambitious goal”, says Kristopher Krouse, Executive Director of Shirley Heinze Land Trust.

Recreational enhancements are not the only goal of this project. Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and the National Park Service are removing invasive species, felling dead standing ash trees lost to emerald ash borer, and restoring riparian habitat along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River through this project to support the ecological health of the river corridor.

Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, National Park Service, and Northwest Indiana Paddling Association would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Chi Cal Rivers Fund partners, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donnelley Foundation, and ArcelorMittal for funding this exciting work.

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