Recently, the Northwest Indiana Times reported on the Port of Indiana’s 50th anniversary. The story of the port is one of celebration for our region’s economy, but it is also a story of the loss of some of the region’s most pristine dunes. It is nearly impossible to talk about the establishment of the port without talking about our beloved park. We invite you to look back with us on a time of complex decision making and how it shaped our region as we know it.
The battle to save the dunes had long been in motion before 1960, but it was around this time that one of the greatest battles was underway. There had been talks of a deep-water port at Burns Ditch in years prior, but it was in 1960 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers produced a study supporting the feasibility of such a structure, indicating that the establishment of a port in the heart of the dunes was likely. Industry, with strong support from Indiana politicians and the media, prepared to clear over 1,000 acres of duneland in anticipation of such a port.
Yet, also during this time, Senator Paul Douglas introduced one of a number of dunes bills to support the creation of a National Monument that would preserve over 3,800 acres of dunes in perpetuity. This area included the very same central dunes proposed for a deep-water port complex. In a demonstration of further support for the protection of the dunes, the National Park Service eyed the feasibility of a Federal park near the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and Secretary of Interior Udall supported the endeavor. Meanwhile, local advocates including founder and president of Save the Dunes, Dorothy Buell, fanned the flames of passion in fellow conservationists and community members for the establishment of a national park.
It was clear that by the early 1960s, there were two strong competing factions – those calling for a port and those calling for a park. It also became clear that Senator Douglas could likely stop the port, but Indiana Representative Charlie Halleck held the power to stop the park. During this tense period of political deadlock, the bulldozers came and little by little, the central dunes were carted away to make room for the Bethlehem Steel plant. In October of 1962, Senator Douglas learned of John F. Kennedy’s approval of the inclusion of the Port of Indiana into a bill. Straight away, Senator Douglas met with President Kennedy at the White House. Comparing the Indiana dunes to Kennedy’s Cape Cod home, Senator Douglas successfully persuaded the President to rescind his approval. As an added result, President Kennedy asked for further investigation into a study for the establishment of both a park and a port together.
Long-time activist Herb Read declared those to be the worst days of his life. With fellow conservationists and friends, Herb shared that all while the Park-Port battle continued, he could hear the bulldozers tearing down Central Dunes.
To conservationists, it was a moment of celebration and a moment of tragedy. The “Kennedy Compromise” would finally establish the long-awaited Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, but it would also establish the Port of Indiana. This meant the total loss of the beloved central dunes. After further trials and tribulations surrounding the establishment of both the park and the port, the final Public Works Omnibus Bill of 1965 included a clause approving the Port of Indiana – but only with the authorization of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Eventually, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore would become a reality in 1966.
"When the president of National Steel said that he preferred jobs to picnics, [Dorothy Buell] responded, 'We ask, why is it not possible to have jobs and picnics? Surely this is the viewpoint of a humanitarian.'"
Shifting Sands: The Restoration of the Calumet, Kenneth Schoon
And so, Northwest Indiana gained the Port of Indiana as well as the Indiana Dunes National Park (formerly called Lakeshore). It is because of this compromise that organizations such as Save the Dunes still have so much work to do - the coexistence of a port and a park is not an easy one. Yet, in the face of old and new challenges, Save the Dunes remains steadfast in our commitment to protect the dunes and Lake Michigan. We hope that you, too, will join us in the call to action to defend our region's environment. It is important that we ensure no more losses come of our treasured dunes landscape.
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Like every good nonprofit, we're trying to work ourselves out of a job. Once the dunes are finally protected and there is no need to safeguard and enhance our region's environment, then maybe Save the Dunes can finally rest. Until then, we're still going to give it our all to ensure the dunes are protected for you and generations to come. If you'd like to support our work, please be sure to consider making a donation today.