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Indiana Dunes parks showcase overlooked areas

– Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park have much more than just sand, and new programs at both destinations aim to introduce visitors to the parks’ diversity.

“(Visitors) think of just the beach and the dunes,” Bruce Rowe, spokesman for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore said. “One of the things we try to do is let people know that we have 15,000 acres of park and a lot of those are wetlands and woodlands.”

People have the same misconception about the state park, Manager Brandt Baughman told The (Munster) Times.

“The last couple of years, we’ve made a concerted effort to do roving presentations,” Baughman said. “It lets them know there is a nature center here at the park and that we have 2,170 other acres besides the beach.”

The National Lakeshore, which spans parts of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, is one of the most biologically diverse national park properties in the nation, with some 1,400 plant species, Rowe said. Among the important plants in the dunes region is the wild lupine, which serves as the sole food source for the endangered Karner blue butterfly in its caterpillar state.

The national park this summer will launch a passport program that will encourage visitors to visit at least seven locations within the park that spans parts of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

The state park partners with Indiana Dunes Tourism for the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, a program aimed at showcasing other features of the parks. Also, a new bird observation platform near the beach is scheduled to open next month.

Baughman said for all the work park staff does to promote various aspects of the park, weather plays the greatest role. Every June weekend in 2013 was cold or rainy, which had a direct impact on visitors and income at the state park. The year before, high heat and dry conditions kept the park crowded.

“For all the hard work we do and efforts we make to get people to come to the park, when it comes right down to it, we live and die by the weather,” Baughman said.

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Information from: The Times.

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