Looming federal government shutdown would limit services at Indiana Dunes National Park


Employees who have worked at Indiana Dunes National Park more than five years know the drill.

From time to time, Congress can’t, or doesn’t want to, pass a new appropriations bill for federal agencies such as the National Park Service, and the federal government has to shut down for a while.

That scenario seems to be playing out now, with a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a new federal spending bill or start another government shutdown.

The Indiana Dunes National Park referred questions about a potential shutdown’s effect to the National Park Service’s regional office, which referred them to the Department of the Interior.

A sign taped to the door at the headquarters for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore notes the federal government shutdown in January 2019. While trails remain open, bathrooms and other buildings are locked, and programs have been canceled.

The Department of the Interior announced Friday that most National Park Service sites would be “closed completely to public access” if a shutdown occurs, and areas that can’t be closed off “will face significantly reduced visitor services.”

“Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources as well as visitor safety,” the department’s announcement said. On Friday afternoon, the NPS Twitter account clarified that access and visitor services would be available on Sunday, but starting Monday, all national parks would close, and visitors should expect services to be unavailable.

It noted that the complete closure wouldn’t apply to places that can’t be closed off, such as the National Mall and memorial parks In Washington, D.C.

That would seem to apply to most Indiana Dunes National Park beaches and trails, which aren’t closed off by gates.

“However,” the Interior Department announcement added, “staffing levels and services including restroom and sanitation maintenance, trash collection, road maintenance, campground operations, and emergency operations will vary and are not guaranteed” if a federal government shutdown occurs.

The Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, on Indiana 49 in the town of Porter, will remain open, Indiana Dunes Tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said, because the building is owned by Porter County and shared by the county and the national park.

National park rangers who normally work at the Visitor Center won’t be there if there’s a government shutdown, Weimer said, but Porter County tourism employees and volunteers will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions.

They won’t be able to sell national park passes, however.

Weimer noted that Indiana Dunes State Park, just north of the visitor center, would not be affected by a federal government shutdown.

“If you want to visit the dunes, you absolutely can,” she said, hoping visitors from outside the region get that message.

Randy Stoppelman, of South Dakota, picks up the carpet outside his Airstream trailer with his dog Cleo before rolling out of the Dunewood Campground at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 after the government shutdown closed the doors to the National Park. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)

Fall is usually the second-busiest season for dunes parks visitors, Weimer said, but Indiana Dunes National Park will have offered all its big public programs for fall, such as the recent Outdoor Adventure Festival, before the shutdown could begin.

Smaller programs, such as ranger-led hikes, would be canceled if a shutdown occurs.

Weimer said her staff will get an update from national park officials on Monday morning if a shutdown occurs, and will pass the word on to the media.

Federal government shutdowns began in 1981 and have ranged in length from hours to weeks, affecting from a few federal agencies to nearly all.

The longest one was the most recent, from Dec. 21, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019. Some national parks remained open part of that time, a move that the Government Accountability Office later deemed illegal.

Tim Zorn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.


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