Bringing a happy end to a 103-year-long campaign for recognition, a 15,000-acre expanse of northwestern Indiana has been named the country’s 61st national park.
The Indiana Dunes National Park—previously known as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore—came into being on Friday, February 22, when President Donald Trump signed a bill that ushered in the change, reports Caitlin Morton of Conde Nast Traveller. The redesignation had been included in January’s 465-page House Joint Resolution 31.
The re-designation may not change much about the area aside from its name; the park will not necessarily receive additional funding or protections, according to Emily Hopkins of the Indianapolis Star. But the dunes now constitute Indiana’s first national park, and officials hope the new status will draw increased attention to the beautiful stretch of land along Lake Michigan.
Even before the re-designation, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was a popular destination for tourists and nature enthusiasts, drawing some 2 million visitors each year, according to the Guardian’s Antonia Wilson. The landscape is dotted not only with beaches and towering sand dunes, which were formed by melting glaciers, but also with wetlands, prairies and rare oak savannas, where black oaks grow amid grasslands. The dunes are teeming with biodiversity; they are home to 1,130 native plant species, along with hundreds of birds and mammals.
Advocates have been pushing to see the dunes designated as a national park for more than a century; the campaign began, in fact, with Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. In 1916, just two months after the service was created, he lobbied for the creation for a “Sand Dunes National Park” in Indiana, reports Brent Knepper of Outside. Over the following decades, environmental advocates clashed with “industrial interests” that sought to establish a large port in the area. In 1966, the National Park Service agreed to classify the dunes as a “national lakeshore,” which granted the area the same protections as a national park, if not the same status.
For those who hoped to see the dunes classified as a national park, the new designation represents a long-overdue acknowledgement of Indiana’s rich natural environment. “This provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves,” said Indiana congressman Pete Visclosky, according to Wilson, “and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders.”