GARY, Indiana - The doors to the guardhouse at the West Beach entrance to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary are shuttered, and a sign posted over the National Park Service seal advises the national park service is unable to staff the property and patrons should use extreme caution in entering.
Spanning 15 miles along southern shore of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful and ecologically diverse landmark. However, due to the partial government shutdown, there are no rangers or basic services. Bathroom doors are locked, and on a recent day after overnight snow, untreated stairs were left icy and precarious.
Beginning Dec. 21 at midnight, many national park rangers and personnel were furloughed as a result of the shutdown, caused by funding disputes between President Donald Trump and Congress regarding funding for a wall along the southern border of the US. Discussions between Congress and the president continue, but a compromise has yet to be reached.
The lakeshore and the Hoosier National Forest will remain open to the public without staff while the shutdown continues.
“We’re disappointed to see any type of government shutdown, especially the National Park Service, which is an integral part of the Indiana Dunes area,” said Dustin Ritchea, the promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism. “But we want to remind visitors that many of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s trails, beaches and parks will remain open to the public.”
In recent days, media have reported problems with visitors leaving trash in national parks, driving off-road vehicles in sensitive environments and generally disregarding park rules. So far, Indiana’s national parks haven’t seen such problems, but citizens are worried it could happen here as well.
Jessica Larson of Chesterton spent the day walking along the West Beach section of the Dunes removing glass. This past summer she was part of the park’s custodial staff, cleaning trash from the hiking trails and beach.
“I love this beach,” she said. “The Dunes are biggest natural resource that we have here in Indiana. To keep it clean and protected is of the utmost importance I believe.”
The Dunes aren’t just for recreation and fun. The area also comprises a delicate ecosystem with wetlands, rare species of birds and containing 1,100 native plants.
According to Ritchea, no environmental impact has been seen so far as a result of the government shutdown.
“However, we encourage visitors to continue picking up their trash to keep the parks in pristine condition,” he said. “Also, the Indiana Dunes remain a fragile and diverse ecological landmark, so we remind visitors only to use the same designated trails they would during normal operation.”
While national park staff members are furloughed, they are not being paid.Larson says she concerned for those families, especially during the holidays.
“I guess there’s never a good time to do it, but my heart goes out to all of them not having any financial security right now,” she said.
The shutdown also affects summer seasonal jobs, like the one Larson held, which are usually posted this time of the year.
“They’re not going to be spending the time to post jobs and going through applications. It kind of pushes things back and you don’t really know what’s going on,” she said.
However, Larson said she wouldn’t immediately look anywhere else for summer employment and would wait a while to see what happens.
“I love it here, just being at the park every day,” she said. “I love being part of the national park service. It makes me feel good to get out there and clean it up, so people can enjoy the day and not have to worry about anything.”
In a statement regarding the shutdown, Theresa Pierno, the president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said, “The Trump administration has again left some parks partially open and without adequate staff, putting our nation’s most treasured places and millions of visitors in harm’s way. It’s unrealistic and dangerous to think that parks can remain open with only a skeleton crew and continue with business as usual. Rather than jeopardizing our parks’ resources, wildlife, visitors and staff, the administration and Congress must finalize a budget and keep our national parks fully up and running.”
According to CNN, President Trump said he was prepared to keep the government closed for months or even years.
If the shutdown continues to Jan. 12, it will be the longest in history.