U.S. Secretary of the Interior visits National Lakeshore
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org August 16, 2012 3:59PM
Superintendent Costa Dillon, left, points out some of the features of West Beach while talking with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, right, Thursday Aug. 16, 2012. Salazar's visit was designed to highlight the America's Great Outdoors initiative. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 18, 2012 6:18AM
When U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas worked in the 1960s to create the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, he met resistance from both the state and the U.S. National Parks Service.
But on Thursday morning, more than 45 years after the park’s creation, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar praised the park as he visited the National Lakeshore for the first time, getting a tour from Douglas’ former intern, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
“It’s one of the great urban national parks,” Salazar said as he walked through the Douglas Education Center with Durbin and other park officials. “Maybe one of the greatest.”
Salazar walked through the center asking questions about various displays as Durbin told him of the park’s creation and Douglas’ fight. Douglas, who was from Illinois, had dreamed of protecting the lands, Durbin said, but met resistance from Indiana officials who were concerned about how local businesses would be affected.
Salazar also met local environmental activist Lee Botts, who helped push for the Dunes National Lakeshore.
“I hope the national parks system has changed its mind (about the National Lakeshore),” Botts told Salazar.
He assured her that the park now is held in high esteem in the system and that it’s known for its biodiversity.
Botts said she was happy to see the secretary’s visit, noting that before the park was created, the National Park System looked down on it because it was in pieces and in the middle of industry.
“They didn’t think it was a real national park,” Botts said. “His coming means he thinks it is.”
Lynda Lancaster, a spokeswoman for the National Lakeshore, said this is believed to be the park’s second visit by a secretary of interior. Then-Secretary James Watts is believed to have visited the park in the 1980s.
National Lakeshore Superintendant Costa Dillon and Durbin pointed out to Salazar that the park has received several national awards, including being voted in one poll as a top vacation destination in the country, beating out other national parks, such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
Salazar said although the National Lakeshore might not be as grand as some of the other parks, it gives the 10 million people in the Chicago area easy access to a national park.
Salazar, who also visited West Beach during his trip, said the park has also helped to bring jobs and revitalization to Northwest Indiana.
Salazar is in the middle of a four-day tour of national parks in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota as part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which highlights conservation efforts, recreation and job creation at the parks. A press release said that all the national parks help to employ 6.1 million people and generate $646 billion each year.