Furnessville Road will close, but the question is, when?
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent June 16, 2012 4:00PM
Roy Krizek outside his business, The Schoolhouse Shop, in Beverly Shores Friday June 15, 2012. Krizek and other area residents are weary of plans by the National Parks Service to close portions of nearby roads in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:20AM
CHESTERTON — Costa Dillon, superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, is steadfast that Furnessville Road is not closing — at least not on his watch.
“I can’t predict what a future superintendent is going to do, but I’m not going to close it,” he said last week.
The road’s future has been a point of consternation for the residents and businesses that rely on it as an alternative to the busy and often accident-prone U.S. 20. They worry that the road, in the park’s possession and maintained by Porter County, will be shut down by the National Park Service, eliminating an alternative route to U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 during an emergency.
A May 7 letter Dillon drafted to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in which he discusses the impact of closing Furnessville Road, does not help the matter. The letter was a response to correspondence by Trent Pendley, whose home backs up to Furnessville Road, sent to Visclosky.
“We have concluded that closing Furnessville Road is highly unlikely to interfere with emergency services to these areas … . With respect to the impact on homeowners in the area, the NPS acknowledges that closing Furnessville Road would inconvenience a few local residents and commuters,” Dillon wrote.
Dillon has yet to appease the folks who rely on the road, or county officials, all of whom are concerned that someday, the road will close. Some also say they haven’t been able to get a solid answer on whether Furnessville Road was going to stay open.
“Where is it at? That’s the big question,” Roy Krizek, co-owner of Schoolhouse Shop on Furnessville Road, said. A segment of the road, which includes his business, would remain open.
Like others in that area, Krizek said keeping Furnessville Road open is a safety issue. When a tornado struck Chesterton a few years ago, both U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 shut down, leaving Furnessville Road the only alternative.
Park officials admitting that the road eventually may close is “the closest thing we can get to the whole thing,” Krizek said. “It’s important to keep it in the public eye and keep the pressure up to maintain it.”
A 1997 park general management plan called for closing Furnessville Road, as well as a host of other roads. The matter came before the Porter County Board of Commissioners in early April, when dozens of people emailed board President John Evans, R-North, and about 20 people spoke out at a commissioners meeting against closing Furnessville Road.
The National Park Service couldn’t move forward with the road closures until the remaining reservations of use and occupancy were vacated in September 2010. The commissioners received the road closure plan in January 2011, hence the lag time between the plan and when the road closures finally came before commissioners for a vote.
The issue is complicated by the fact that in 1983, and again in 1994, the county traded some roads, including Furnessville Road, for the creation of the Dune Park train station served by the South Shore Line.
That puts Furnessville Road — unlike the other roads, some of which the commissioners voted to close in May — in the hands of the National Park Service which, technically, can do as it likes with the road.
“Our long-range plan does remain as it was in the general management plan,” park public information officer Bruce Rowe said. That plan calls for the closure of Furnessville Road from County Road 275E west to its intersection with U.S. 12.
There are no immediate plans to close the road, though, Rowe said, and there’s no timeline for when it might occur. The closure would include moving a trail maintenance shop to park headquarters on Mineral Springs Road and making the location a trailhead for the Ly-co-ki-we Trail.
“We are not planning to close it right now,” Dillon stressed. “We have no immediate plans to change the use of Furnessville Road.”
Pendley lives on U.S. 20 and uses Furnessville Road, which is behind his home, as a safer alternative to get where he needs to go. A previous owner of his home died in a wreck on U.S. 20, and Krizek noted another fatal accident on U.S. 20 a couple of years ago.
“The locals all use that road,” Pendley said.
In addition to maintaining Furnessville Road, Porter County commissioners would have to sign off on the road if it was closed, Evans said. Closing Furnessville Road, which is in his district, would dead-end the roads that lead to it, including Hadenfelt and Veden roads.
The dead-end roads would require cul-de-sacs once access to Furnessville Road was cut off.
“The other thing is, it’s just a plain safety factor,” Evans said, noting the access the road provides if there’s a fire or other emergency. “Furnessville Road needs to stay open, in my opinion, for perpetuity.”